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Harris says Russia committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine

Feb. 18, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 18, 2023 at 8:54 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses participants at the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Saturday.  (THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
Vice President Kamala Harris addresses participants at the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Saturday. (THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Jennifer Jacobs Bloomberg News

Vice President Kamala Harris said the U.S. has concluded that Russia committed “crimes against humanity” in its invasion of Ukraine and vowed that Moscow would be held to account for its actions.

“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt,” Harris said in an address Saturday to the Munich Security Conference. “The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity. To all of those who are perpetrating these crimes – and to their superiors, who are complicit in these crimes – you will be held to account.”

While officials from President Joe Biden’s administration have repeatedly accused Russia of war crimes and urged Ukraine to document any atrocities committed, Harris’ comments are likely to give new momentum to efforts to ensure that crimes are eventually prosecuted.

European officials have floated support for a hybrid tribunal that would entail prosecuting alleged war crimes in Ukrainian courts. Russia has denied the claims against its forces.

Harris on Saturday detailed many of the allegations.

“Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population – gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation. Execution-style killings, beatings and electrocution. Russian authorities have forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of people, from Ukraine to Russia, including children. They have cruelly separated children from their families,” she said.

Harris cited images of a theater in Mariupol where hundreds were killed, a pregnant mother killed after a strike on a maternity hospital, and a United Nations report that a 4-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a Russian soldier.

Harris cited her own history as a prosecutor in San Francisco and later as California’s attorney general and said the U.S. “will continue to support the judicial process in Ukraine and international investigations.”

“Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, known and unknown: justice must be served,” she said.

Harris delivered her remarks a week ahead of the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion. The vice president, who spoke at the conference in 2022, days before the war began, highlighted Ukraine’s resilience.

“Today, a year later, we know Kyiv is still standing, Russia is weakened, the transatlantic alliance is stronger than ever, and the spirit of the Ukrainian people endures,” Harris said. “As President Biden has often said: The United States will support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Harris is leading a large delegation to the security conference, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a display of unity intended to highlight the U.S. commitment to Ukraine even as many House Republicans are calling for more scrutiny of the Biden administration’s support for Kyiv.

Biden has helped secure international support for Ukraine, including weapons and funding, and imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow to hamper Russia’s war. The U.S. has committed nearly $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began on Feb. 24 last year.

Biden is traveling to Poland on Monday to mark the first year of the war and to speak to allies about efforts to bolster support for Ukraine. During the visit, the president will meet Polish President Andrzej Duda and leaders of the so-called Bucharest 9 group of eastern-flank NATO allies. Next month, Biden will host German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House.

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