On September 23, 2022 the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine released findings that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine. After visiting 27 towns and interviewing 150 witnesses, the Commission reported that Russian troops have committed brutal executions, indiscriminate attacks, and sexual and gender-based violence, including against children during their invasion of Ukraine.
In response to alleged war crimes in Ukraine earlier this year, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Democratic Whip Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), and Congresswoman Victoria Spartz (R-IN) introduced the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act (S.4240/H.R.7818) to update current United States war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals under jurisdiction of the United States Courts regardless of the location or targets of their alleged atrocities. The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for war crimes discovered years after they occur.
“This disturbing report confirms that Russian troops are carrying out heinous attacks on innocent Ukrainians as they continue waging an unjust war. These inhumane and unprovoked crimes, conducted under Putin’s watch, cannot go unpunished. The Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act is needed to send a strong message that people who commit war crimes are not welcome here in the U.S. and should be punished, regardless of where their offense was committed,” said Senator Grassley.
“Perpetrators committing unspeakable war crimes, such as those unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine, must be held to account,” said Senator Durbin. “With the UN’s formation of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, we are sending a clear message to Putin: the world remains steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine and the brave Ukrainian people. And as Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue to look at various avenues to ensure he pays the price.”
“My heart goes out to all those families and individuals suffering due to Putin’s illegal and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine and the horrific atrocities carried out by his troops. These war criminals – all those on the ground, their leaders, and ultimately Vladimir Putin, cannot be allowed to act without consequence. The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, and we must continue our efforts to both weaken Russia through our sanctions regime and strengthen our support for Ukraine via supplies and aid. We need to pass the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act so that when this war ends, none of these war criminals will evade justice for the unconscionable acts they have committed in Ukraine,” said Congressman Cicilline.
“The atrocities of Russia’s war against the Ukrainian people and POWs are heartbreaking. I have seen and heard it firsthand, but these war crimes have now also been confirmed by the UN. The international community cannot remain silent and must hold accountable not only top leaders who make these ruthless orders, but also military commanders who are willing to obey them,” said Congresswoman Spartz.
Current law allows for the prosecution of people who commit war crimes in the United States or against Americans abroad, but violators who targeted non-Americans are not subject to the law even after they enter the United States. The Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act expands the original war crimes jurisdiction to include war criminals found in the United States, even if they never targeted U.S. nationals. This would allow the prosecution of those non-Americans who come to the United States after committing war crimes against Ukrainians.
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