US declares Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine

Feb 18, 2023, 10:52 AM | Updated: 11:18 am
Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munic...
Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC) is taking place from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, 2023 at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

(CNN) — The US government has determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity during its war in Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Saturday in Germany.

“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity,” Harris said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference. She added, “To all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes, you will be held to account.”

The declaration marks the strongest accusation yet from the US as it seeks to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The US government declared last March that members of the Russian armed forces had committed war crimes in Ukraine. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said it was their personal opinion that war crimes have taken place and Biden has gone as far as saying that atrocities at the hands of Moscow’s troops qualify as “genocide.”

Blinken echoed Harris’ remarks Saturday in a statement released by the State Department.

“We reserve crimes against humanity determinations for the most egregious crimes,” he said. “These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.”

While the latest crimes against humanity determination is significant, it remains largely symbolic for now. It does not immediately trigger any specific consequences, nor does it give the US the ability to prosecute the Russians involved with perpetrating crimes against humanity. However, it could provide international bodies such as the International Criminal Court, which work to hold perpetrators accountable, with evidence to effectively try to prosecute those crimes.

Laying out the evidence

Harris’ announcement Saturday comes days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The vice president is in Germany as a part of the Biden administration’s efforts to show commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and unity among Western allies who have provided billions in aid, funding and weapons to combat Russia’s aggression. Biden is scheduled to visit Poland on Monday.

Harris said Saturday that as a former prosecutor who began “as young lawyer in the court room and later running California’s Department of Justice,” she knew “firsthand the importance of gathering facts and holding them up against the law.”

In her speech, delivered inside the famed Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, Harris laid bare some of what could be used as evidence of Russia’s crimes against humanity. The vice president outlined specific instances that have peppered news clips and official reports.

“First, from the starting days of this unprovoked war, we have witnessed Russian forces engage in horrendous atrocities and war crimes,” Harris said.

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

Harris’ speech cited evidence of indiscriminate Russian attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, including the bombing of a maternity hospital that killed a pregnant mother and of a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds were killed. The vice president spoke of the horrific images out of Bucha that showed men and women shot and left to rot in the streets and reports by the United Nations of a 4-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by a Russian soldier.

“Barbaric and inhumane,” Harris said.

Since 2022, the US has provided $30 million to support the investigation of war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine, according to a White House fact sheet. The Biden administration is seeking another nearly $30 million from Congress to bolster efforts on this issue.

As it was when the US government declared that Russia committed war crimes last March, it remains to be seen whether there will be any accountability for those accused of carrying out the alleged crimes and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin himself will be forced to bear any responsibility.

Still Harris vowed Saturday that the US would support the judicial process.

“In the face of these indisputable facts, to all of us here in Munich, let us renew our commitment to accountability. Let us renew our commitment to the rule of law,” she said. “As for the United States, we will continue to support the judicial process in Ukraine and international investigations because justice must be served. Let us all agree, on behalf of all the victims, known and unknown: Justice must be served.”

‘For as long as it takes’

Harris, in her speech Saturday, pledged that the US would “strongly support” Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” touting the Ukrainian people’s resolve and resilience.

“There will be more dark days in Ukraine. The daily agony of war will persist,” she said. “But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he’s badly mistaken. Time is not on his side.”

Questions have swirled in recent months about how much more funding the US will provide to Ukraine’s war effort, now that Republicans are in charge of the US House of Repsentatives and have promised no “blank checks.” But Harris noted Saturday how many congressional leaders were at the conference in Munich. This included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“They are here together because they understand the stakes. The leadership of these members has been vital to America’s support of Ukraine, and President Biden and I know that their support for Ukraine will continue,” the vice president said.

Blinken said Saturday that the US government has a “profound stake” in a “just and durable” peace in Ukraine.

“Any peace has to be consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter. It is fundamentally against the interests of every other country around the world to wind up with a result that somehow indicates the seizure by force of territory, that validates that,” Blinken said during a discussion panel in Munich with Annalena Baerbock and Dmytro Kuleba, his respective German and Ukrainian counterparts.

“Because if we do that, we will open a Pandora’s box around the world, and every would-be aggressor will conclude that if Russia got away with it, we can get away with it. And that’s not in anyone’s interest because it’s a recipe for a world of conflict,” he added.

Also in Munich, CIA Director Bill Burns said Saturday that intelligence sharing with NATO allies has proved essential to supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“It’s a two-way street. We’ve learned a lot from our NATO partners. We learn a lot from the Ukrainians as well,” Burns said in a separate panel discussion. That, he said, “has been the kind of essential cement in the coalition that the president has organized.”

Meanwhile, Harris expressed concern over China’s continued support of Russia since the war in Ukraine began.

“We have also seen nations like North Korea and Iran send weapons in support of Russia’s brutal war. We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” Harris said.

“Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order,” she said.

CNN has reported that China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, will visit Russia this month, according to its Foreign Ministry, in the first visit to the country from a Chinese official in that role since Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Wang said Saturday that Beijing was ready to present its peace proposition for Ukraine, a rare remark that referred to the Ukraine conflict as a war.

“This warfare cannot continue to rage on,” he said. “We need to think about what efforts we can make to bring this warfare to an end.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Foot Locker is planning to shut 400 stores by 2026 as it strives to become more relevant to younger...
Parija Kavilanz

Foot Locker closing 400 stores by 2026

Foot Locker is planning to shut 400 stores by 2026 as it strives to become more relevant to younger shoppers by relaunching its retail brands, introducing "experiential" new store concepts and simplifying its operations by closing underperforming mall-based stores.
19 hours ago
An artist's rendering of the Tampa Florida Temple. (Intellectual Reserve, Inc.)...
Madison Swenson

Important dates, rendering released for 3 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint temples

Open house and dedication dates for the Feather River California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been announced. The location of the Huehuetenango Guatemala Temple and a rendering of the Tampa Florida Temple were also released.
19 hours ago
Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Friday, Jan. 6, ...
Associated Press

Teacher shot by 6-year-old describes challenging recovery

A Virginia teacher who was shot and wounded by her 6-year-old student said she has had four surgeries and is going through a challenging recovery.
19 hours ago
SEATTLE, WA - MAY 20: The exterior of The Spheres are seen at the Inc. headquarters on M...
Catherine Thorbecke

Amazon to lay off 9,000 more workers

Amazon is cutting 9,000 more jobs, CEO Andy Jassy announced Monday.
19 hours ago
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is looking for "professional bear huggers" to join its c...
Zoe Sottile

New Mexico Game and Fish is now hiring ‘professional bear huggers’

Bear lovers rejoice: The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is hiring for "professional bear huggers."
19 hours ago
Ryan Langborg #3 of the Princeton Tigers reacts after a basket during the first half against the Mi...
Associated Press

March Madness: Sweet 16 matchups are set after wild weekend

March Madness is heading to the Sweet 16 without a handful of top teams. Two No. 1 seeds, Kansas and Purdue, No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 4 seed Virginia are all gone — and gone with them are millions of busted brackets.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
US declares Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine