In an exclusive interview in Lviv, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has come to Ukraine because he has reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed in the conflict between Russia and its southern neighbor.
“The law is clear on this. It is a crime to intentionally target civilians. It is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects. Now, of course, there has to be further investigation. Were those civilian objects being used to launch attacks that make them a legitimate target? But even then, there is no license to use cluster bombs or use disproportionate attacks in concentrated civilian areas. There’s a duty of distinction,” Karim Khan said.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there have been numerous incidents of residential buildings being hit by Russian rockets and artillery fire. Among the most deadly was a strike on the city of Chernihiv when Russian fire hit an apartment complex around midday on March 4. Video geolocated by CNN shows at least five explosions during the attack. Emergency services said they had pulled 33 bodies from the rubble of damaged buildings by the early evening. Regional authorities said there were no military facilities nearby, though Russia insists it does not deliberately target civilians.
In his CNN interview, Khan also said that indictments could be served on anyone regardless of military rank or civilian role.
“There’s no immunity for any official position … [If] you’re a foot soldier in a civilian area in urban warfare, you don’t have a license to rape or attack children or terrorize. And if you’re a field commander or if you’re a battlefield commander doing aerial strikes, or targeting decisions or you’re a civilian superior, under the Rome statute, there is responsibility,” Khan said.
More background: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last Thursday that actions committed by Russia against the Ukrainian people constitute war crimes, marking the first time a senior US official has directly accused Moscow of war crimes since last month's attack on Ukraine began.
Other Biden administration officials have not gone as far as to declare outright that Russia has committed war crimes — violations of international laws of armed conflict — and instead have pointed to "credible reports" that such crimes have been carried out and their support for investigations into Moscow's actions.
Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday referenced "atrocities" committed by the Russians and said that the UN should investigate the allegations of Russian war crimes.
CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Sonnet Swire and Jeremy Herb contributed reporting to this post.