The meeting brought together prosecutors and human rights lawyers, and was convened by Albania and France.
Key players seeking accountability for atrocities during the Ukraine war have come together at the United Nations in New York for the first time, to kick-start investigations into allegations of atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine.
Among those attending the session on Wednesday were the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, the chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry, Ukraine’s top prosecutor and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who has opened over 8,000 investigations into alleged violations of the laws and customs of war, said that “Russia’s actions amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes” and the pattern “resembles the crime of genocide”.
Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka, who co-sponsored and chaired the meeting, said that as a veto-holding member of the Security Council, Russia is supposed to be a guardian of international peace but has “embarked on a war of choice against a neighbor committing immeasurable crimes in the process”.
France’s deputy UN ambassador, Nathalie Broadhurst, the other co-sponsor, said the images of atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and other areas after Russian forces withdrew “are unbearable” and may amount to war crimes.
Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, said the United States has concluded Russia committed war crimes, pointing to credible reports of individuals killed execution-style, bodies showing signs of torture and “horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls”. She said Russia's political and military leadership and rank and file will be held accountable.
Russia's UN Mission has dismissed the various statement calling them "unsubstantiated claims and even fakes seasoned with lies, hypocrisy and pompous rhetoric".
Russia has denied responsibility for any atrocities and repeatedly blamed Ukrainian nationalists and “neo-Nazis”.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said a record 43 countries have referred the Ukraine situation to the court, which is responsible for prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
China, which is close to Russia, said the cause of civilian deaths should be established and verified. “Any accusations should be based on facts before the full picture is clear,” a Chinese diplomat said.
Other council members — Mexico, Gabon, Ghana, Brazil, India, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates — didn't seek to lay any blame. They said investigations need to establish the facts behind the killings and attacks.