"Today I wish to announce that I have decided to proceed with opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible," says International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the southern end of a Russian convoy, east of Antonov airport, Ukraine on February. 28, 2022.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the southern end of a Russian convoy, east of Antonov airport, Ukraine on February. 28, 2022. (AP)

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said he plans to open an investigation "as rapidly as possible" into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement on Monday that the investigation will look at alleged crimes committed before the Russian attack, but added that "given the expansion of the conflict in recent days, it is my intention that this investigation will also encompass any new alleged crimes falling within the jurisdiction of my office that is committed by any party to the conflict on any part of the territory of Ukraine."

The court already has conducted a preliminary probe into crimes linked to the violent suppression of pro-European protests in Kiev in 2013-2014 by a pro-Russian Ukrainian administration and allegations of crimes in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where Russia has backed rebels since 2014. 

In December 2020, then-ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the probe uncovered indications that "a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court has been committed" in Ukraine.

However, the court's prosecutors had not yet sought permission from judges to open a full-scale investigation.

Khan says he now wants to open the investigation envisaged by his predecessor and broaden it to include crimes committed in fighting since the Russian attack on Ukraine last week.

Khan said he would continue to monitor developments in Ukraine, where there have been reports of civilian casualties, and he called for "restraint and strict adherence to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law.”

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Death tally likely a vast undercount 

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said her office has confirmed that 102 civilians, including seven children, have been killed in the Russian assault and 304 others wounded in Ukraine since Thursday.

She cautioned that the tally was likely a vast undercount.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is among the court's 123 member states, but Ukraine has accepted the court's jurisdiction, which empowers Khan to investigate. 

Khan has told his team to explore how to preserve evidence of crimes and said that the next step is to seek authorisation from the court’s judges to open an investigation. However, he added that the process would be speeded up if a member nation of the court were to ask for an investigation in what is known as a referral.

That "would allow us to actively and immediately proceed with the (prosecution) Office’s independent and objective investigations," Khan said.

He said he also would seek support from the court's member states and the international community to fund the investigation.

"I will be calling for additional budgetary support, for voluntary contributions to support all our situations, and for the loan of gratis personnel," he said. "The importance and urgency of our mission is too serious to be held hostage to lack of means."

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Source: AP