According to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, the Biden administration has legally determined that Russia has committed “crimes against humanity” during its close to a year-long invasion of Ukraine.
Former prosecutor Harris stated at the Munich Security Conference, “In the instance of Russia’s operations in Ukraine we have evaluated the data, we know the legal criteria, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity.”
“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held to account.”
The official determination, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the U.S. State Department, carries with it no immediate consequences for the ongoing war.
But Washington hopes that it could help further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and galvanize legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through international courts and sanctions.
Harris’ speech comes as senior Western leaders met in Munich to assess Europe’s worst conflict since World War Two.
She said Russia was now a “weakened” country after Biden led a coalition to punish Putin for the invasion, but Russia is only intensifying assaults in Ukraine’s east. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive, for which it is seeking more, heavier and longer-range weapons from its Western allies.
The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions from their homes, pummelled the global economy and made Putin a pariah in the West.
The Biden administration’s conclusion that Russia’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity” implies a legal analysis that actions ranging from murder to rape are widespread, systematic, and intentionally targeted against civilians. Washington and a U.N.-mandated investigation had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes. It is considered to be a more serious offense under international law.
The Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which is supported by the U.N., has not yet determined whether the alleged war crimes constitute crimes against humanity.