A day before they meet with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, several members of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that they believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has committed genocide in Ukraine.
Their comments, which were made separately to reporters in The Hague, provided a possible initial offer for Thursday’s meeting with Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, were in agreement in describing Putin’s actions as genocide — a term with legal meaning in the context of the court, which has set out to seek justice for crimes committed during the Russian invasion.
Representative Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said Mr. Putin “tried to erase a culture, a people, a religion, and that’s the definition of genocide.” According to the Associated Press. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, pointed to the “crimes against humanity that Putin has committed, and the outright genocide of this man.” Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said the Russian leader “personally made the case for genocide and his behavior thereafter filled in the blanks.”
For the international court to add charges of genocide to the list of investigations related to the war in Ukraine would require a particularly high burden of proving that Mr. Putin committed atrocities with the intent to destroy a specific group. In meeting with Mr. Khan in court on Thursday, committee members will examine “the evidence itself,” Mr. McCaul said, and discuss how the United States can help gather more intelligence to make its case.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March, accusing him of authorizing the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children. The warrant has complicated his freedom of movement. In July, Putin canceled a trip to South Africa, which would have been legally binding on his arrest.
Established in 2002, the court is an independent, permanent body that investigates war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, but Putin is unlikely to face trial before it. Court rules prevent defendants from being tried in absentia, and Russia is unlikely to extradite its officials.
The United States generally kept its distance from the court, fearing that participation would pave the way for the trial of Americans, but the Biden administration has worked closely with the court. In July, President Biden ordered the government to share evidence of Russian war crimes with the International Criminal Court, a major shift in US policy.
President Biden said for the first time in April that Mr. Putin was committing genocide, stressing that this was his personal opinion and not a legal decision. He first used the description offhandedly during a speech at a bioethanol plant in Iowa, and later confirmed his choice of words.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” he said. “It is becoming more and more clear that Putin is just trying to erase the idea of being able to be Ukrainian.”
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