By Toby Sterling and William James
LONDON/THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Britain will send investigators to Ukraine to help gather evidence of war crimes, including sexual violence, its foreign minister said on Friday.
Both Ukrainian prosecutors and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are investigating potential war crimes in Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour.
Moscow denies committing war crimes in Ukraine or targeting civilians during a war that has killed thousands, devastated many cities and towns and forced five million people, mostly women and children, to flee abroad.
Speaking after meeting with ICC officials, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said a British team would head to Ukraine in May with a special emphasis on investigating rape as a possible war crime.
“It’s done to subjugate women and destroy communities and we want to see it stopped,” she said.
“This is about collecting a wide range of evidence, witness statements, forensic evidence, and video evidence,” she said outside the court building in The Hague.
BAN ON RUSSIAN ENERGY
Separately, Truss met with her Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra to discuss the need for further sanctions on Russia, including a halt on purchasing Russian fossil fuels.
The two NATO allies have been closely aligned on Ukraine policy, with both supporting the supply of heavy weaponry for its war effort. Both also support a full ban on Russian energy exports to Europe, including gas, by the end of 2022.
Truss said Britain endorses prosecuting Russian leaders for the war crime of aggression — a thorny question under international law.
The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil, including by Russian soldiers, but cannot bring aggression charges since Russia is not a member of the court.
Some politicians and legal experts have called for the establishment of a separate tribunal as the quickest way to hold Russian politicians responsible for an illegal war.
“We want to see all the crimes prosecuted,” Truss said.
However, she added, “I’m concerned that if there’s focus on setting up an additional tribunal that will divert resources away from this vital evidence collecting.”
(Reporting by William James and Toby Sterling; Editing by Kate Holton and Gareth Jones)