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U.S. launches program to gather evidence of Russia's alleged war crimes in Ukraine as ICC sends investigators

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How Bellingcat is using social media to track alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine 13:30

London — The U.S. State Department announced on Tuesday that it was launching a new program to preserve, analyze and share open-source evidence of suspected Russian war crimes in Ukraine, "for use in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms." 

Called the "Conflict Observatory," the new program will maintain "rigorous chain-of-custody procedures for future civil and criminal legal processes under appropriate jurisdictions," the State Department said.

The announcement came as the International Criminal Court deployed its "largest ever" team of investigators, forensic experts and support staff to collect evidence and help coordinate activities around war crimes investigations in Ukraine.

"Through the deployment of a team of investigators, we will further expand lead development and collect testimonial accounts relevant to military attacks that may constitute Rome Statute crimes," ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement, referring to the treaty that established the court and outlines its function. He said his team would work with Ukrainian authorities and others on the ground to coordinate efforts and strengthen the chain of custody for evidence.

Last surviving Nuremburg prosecutor calls for war crimes tribunal to punish Russia 04:54

"It is essential that the work of all actors seeking to support accountability efforts in Ukraine benefit from effective coordination and communication. In doing so, we will significantly strengthen the impact of our collective work in establishing the truth," Khan said.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's first prosecution for suspected war crimes since the invasion formally got underway. Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin appeared in court and pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old man on a bicycle four days after the start of the war, in a town about 200 miles east of Kyiv. Asked if he was guilty of charges including war crimes and premeditated murder, the 21-year-old sergeant responded: "Yes".

Human Rights Watch released a report, meanwhile, outlining purported evidence of summary executions and torture by Russian troops in occupied areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv during the early days of the invasion.

"The numerous atrocities by Russian forces occupying parts of northeastern Ukraine early in the war are abhorrent, unlawful, and cruel," Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "These abuses against civilians are evident war crimes that should be promptly and impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted."

In early April, CBS News correspondent Debora Patta and her team visited the Kyiv suburb of Bucha to see for themselves the evidence of killings there that Russia has dismissed as "fake."  

Residents react to alleged massacre by Russian forces in Bucha 04:14

The ICC announced its investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine four days after Russia's invasion of the country in February. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a state party to the Rome Statute, and Russia does not recognise the court. However, Ukraine accepted the jurisdiction of the court for crimes committed in its territory starting in 2014.

Khan, the ICC prosecutor, visited Ukraine in April, where he witnessed the aftermath of atrocities carried out in Bucha and called the entire country "a crime scene."

"Now more than ever we need to show the law in action," Khan said Tuesday. "It is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant to their experience, that the ideals of the Rome Statute can be applied meaningfully in order to bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice."

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