By Trevor Hunnicutt and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered his administration to begin sharing evidence of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), a U.S official said on Wednesday.
The Pentagon had been resistant to the move and privately argued that any cooperation with the court could open the way for politicized prosecution of American troops deployed overseas.
The ICC, a permanent war crimes tribunal, in March issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for suspected deportation of children from Ukraine, which would be a war crime.
The news was first reported by the New York Times, which said the Biden administration had started notifying lawmakers on Tuesday.
The White House declined to discuss specifics of any cooperation with the ICC.
“Since the beginning of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the president has been clear: there needs to be accountability for the perpetrators and enablers of war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine,” a National Security Council spokesperson said.
“On the ICC specifically, we are not going to discuss the specifics on any cooperation, which is consistent with the court’s practice of treating requests for cooperation in a confidential manner,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson said the United States had previously sent teams of international investigators and prosecutors to help Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General in preparing war crimes cases.
Ukrainian and Western authorities say there is evidence of murders and executions, shelling of civilian infrastructure, forced deportations, child abductions, torture, sexual violence and illegal detention.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have accused the Pentagon of effectively undermining war crimes prosecution of Russia by blocking the sharing of U.S. military intelligence with the ICC.
Russia is not a member of the ICC and rejects its jurisdiction. It denies committing atrocities during its conflict with Ukraine.
The United States is also not a member of the ICC.
Russia has issued an arrest warrant for the ICC prosecutor who in March prepared a warrant for Putin on war crimes charges.
A successful war crimes prosecution requires a high standard of proof, in a situation where access to suspects and crime scenes is often restricted and there is overlapping jurisdiction between national and international courts.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Ismail Shakil and Rami Ayyub; editing by Dan Whitcomb, Jonathan Oatis and Deepa Babington