THE HAGUE/LVIV (Reuters) – The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday he insisted on “zero tolerance” of sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes against children as fighting intensifies in Ukraine.
In a rare trip into a conflict zone by a top international prosecutor, Karim Khan said he had met with Ukraine’s foreign minister and prosecutor general during a short visit before going to Poland.
He held virtual talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The ICC started a formal investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine after Russia invaded its smaller neighbour on Feb. 24.
Khan said the ICC would investigate all sides in the conflict. His office said it had “transmitted a formal request to the Russian Federation to meet their competent authorities and discuss the current situation.”
Khan said at a briefing “we must insist that there is zero tolerance for any crimes of sexual, gender-based violence or crimes against children and that is going to be increasingly important as urban warfare intensifies.”
“No person with a gun, or a missile, or a plane, or a mortar has a licence to target civilians. Civilian objects and civilians must be protected. Prisoners of war must be treated humanely,” he said.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the ICC and Moscow does not recognise the tribunal. But Ukraine has given it its approval to examine alleged atrocities on its territory dating back to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than three million people have been displaced in the past three weeks during what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians indiscriminately. Russia denies targeting civilians and says its goal is to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine, claims Kyiv and the West say are baseless.
Khan said earlier on social media that he and Zelenskiy agreed that “all efforts are needed to ensure international humanitarian law is respected and to protect the civilian population”.
The ICC is a court of last resort to prosecute individuals for atrocities when a state is unwilling or unable to do so. Its founding treaty has been ratified by 123 countries.