Vice President Kamala Harris ratcheted up the rhetoric against Russia in a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, declaring that the country’s actions in Ukraine amount to “crimes against humanity”.
Both criminals and “their superiors” will face justice, she said, according to an account of her remarks published by Politico. The U.S. government and its Western allies have supported the Ukrainian resistance since the early days of the war.
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” Harris said.
Cases involving crimes against humanity are often heard by the International Criminal Court, a tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands—though the logistics of bringing prominent Russian defendants to stand trial would be challenging.
“Their actions are an assault on our common values, an attack on our common humanity,” Harris said at the conference, adding that attacks on civilians have been “widespread and systematic.”
“Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown: justice must be served,” she said.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that more than 7,000 Ukrainian civilians have died in the first year of the war, though he called that figure “almost certainly a low estimate.” At least another 12,000 civilians have been injured.
Military casualties have also been brutal. As of early February, some estimates pegged Russian losses at about 180,000 injuries and deaths. Ukraine, meanwhile, had suffered about 100,000 casualties.
There have been appalling accounts of alleged war crimes since the invasion began last February. In March, Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol; footage of the aftermath quickly went viral on social media, sparking a global outcry.
In Bucha, dozens of civilians, prisoners, and suspected fighters were massacred that same month, their bodies left in the street. The killings were later revealed to be part of an orchestrated “cleansing.”
Meanwhile, a U.N. investigation published in October accused Russian forces of committing “patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence.” The report documented numerous sexual assaults, including one incident involving a 4-year-old girl.
The Ukrainian government has pushed for a formalized process to charge Russian perpetrators. “The fastest and easiest way to build the security of Ukraine and the whole world is to create a special tribunal to try the Russian leadership for the crime of aggression,” Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the president, said Friday. “Europe and the entire civilized world understand why it is necessary.”