Senators Urge Biden to Send Evidence of Russian War Crimes to the ICC

Senators Urge Biden to Send Evidence of Russian War Crimes to the ICC

A bipartisan group of senators on Friday asked President Biden to direct the U.S. government to share evidence about Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, despite the Pentagon’s resistance to such a move.

In a letter to Mr. Biden obtained by The New York Times, the senators — including Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, the chair and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, respectively — noted that in December, Congress had changed a law to allow greater cooperation with the court’s investigations arising from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and said it was time for the government to do so.

“Last year’s bipartisan congressional action to enhance that support was done in collaboration with your administration to balance all perspectives on the U.S. relationship with the I.C.C.,” the senators wrote. “Yet, months later, as the I.C.C. is working to build cases against Russian officials, including Putin himself, the United States reportedly has not yet shared key evidence that could aid in these prosecutions.”

The letter came a week after the court issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and another top official in his administration, accusing them of orchestrating the abductions and deportations of thousands of children from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The arrest warrants have heightened attention to an impasse inside the Biden administration, first reported by The Times, over whether the United States should transfer evidence gathered by intelligence agencies about the abductions and other alleged war crimes to the International Criminal Court.

“Despite the urgent need to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable, as evidenced by the I.C.C.’s arrest warrant for Putin, recent reporting suggests that your administration has not yet used this new authority to provide much-needed assistance to the I.C.C.’s efforts,” the senators wrote.

The letter was also signed by Senators Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee; Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the Budget Committee; Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina; and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

Since the International Criminal Court was established a generation ago as a standing venue to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the American government has had a distrustful relationship with it, fearing that it might be used to prosecute Americans.

Administrations of both parties have taken the position that the court should not exercise jurisdiction over citizens of countries that did not sign the treaty that created it — among them Russia and the United States — even if the alleged war crimes took place in countries that did sign, like Ukraine or Afghanistan.

In the court’s early days, Congress barred the U.S. government from helping its investigators in various ways. But the broad desire in Washington to hold Mr. Putin and others in his chain of command accountable has led to a thaw, and lawmakers included a provision in a large appropriations bill late last year that creates an exception, allowing the United States to assist the court’s investigations arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to officials familiar with internal deliberations, however, the Pentagon has continued to object to sharing evidence with the court, arguing that doing so would create a precedent that could make it easier for the court to someday try to prosecute Americans.

Other parts of the government — like the State and Justice Departments — want to transfer the evidence, the officials said, and Mr. Biden has not acted to resolve the impasse.

The White House has emphasized that it supports efforts to hold Russia accountable for war crimes, including providing assistance to Ukrainian prosecutors, but has not publicly addressed the internal dispute over the war-crimes court at The Hague. A National Security Council spokesman declined to offer an additional comment this week.

“Knowing of your support for the important cause of accountability in Ukraine, we urge you to move forward expeditiously with support to the I.C.C.’s work so that Putin and others around him know in no uncertain terms that accountability and justice for their crimes are forthcoming,” the senators wrote.

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