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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Accountability for Russian War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Ukraine

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, today delivered an opening statement during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Holding Russian Kleptocrats and Human Rights Violators Accountable for their Crimes Against Ukraine,” featuring testimony from Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

Yesterday, Durbin and Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin to receive an update on reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Key Quotes:

“It has been more than a year since Vladimir Putin unleashed his unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine.  During that year, the world has watched with horror as Russian forces have engaged in rampant and systematic war crimes and crimes against humanity—bombing schools, hospitals, homes, and churches, shooting unarmed men, women, and children in the streets, going house to house raping and torturing occupants.”

“Last week brought fresh horrors as a video surfaced online appearing to show a Russian soldier mercilessly beheading a Ukrainian prisoner of war—cutting his head off with a knife while he was still alive.  To President Zelenskyy—and to all Ukrainians fighting for global peace and freedom—let me start by saying this: this Committee stands with you.  We support you.  We are compiling evidence as the war unfolds… And we must not rest until the perpetrators of the more than 77,000 war crimes that have been documented to date—in Bucha, Izyum, and beyond—are held to account.” 

“Last fall, this Committee held a hearing on the importance of defending an American legacy that began with the Nuremberg Trials in 1945: Bringing war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice.   Sadly, in more recent decades, our nation has not always lived up to this legacy.  As a result of glaring gaps in our criminal laws, many human rights violators have evaded justice. Some have even—shockingly—found safe haven on American soil.  That’s why, since day one of this war, Congress has provided unwavering support to Ukraine—from munitions, tanks, and intelligence, to support for the Rule of Law.  During President Zelenskyy’s historic visit to Washington in December, the Senate passed the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act with unanimous support.”

“Here in America, we need to do our part to support Ukraine’s investigations, and to address remaining gaps in the law that enable impunity.  To that end, we must finally enact a crime against humanity statute.  I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in closing that egregious gap in the law.  And, we need to lead our allies in forming a special tribunal to hold Russia’s leadership accountable for the crime of aggression.  We also must ensure that the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency—the Department of Justice—deploys every resource at its disposal to hold Putin, and those who enable him, accountable.”

“At this very moment, heroic Ukrainians are risking life and limb to defend the same freedoms and values that America is founded on.  In their struggle, we see our own history—as well as our highest aspirations: service, sacrifice, and selflessness.”

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the bipartisan Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act – which updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or victim.  The bill was signed into law by President Biden.  Durbin-authored legislation restricting U.S. recognition of any forcibly annexed areas of Ukraine by Russia also passed as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.   

Durbin and Graham also recently led a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging his Administration to support the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into the atrocities committed in Ukraine by implementing bipartisan legislation enacted in the last Congress.  This letter came after the March 17 news that the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes in Ukraine.

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.