Remarks as Delivered
Thank you, Mr. Minister [Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra]. Thank you, Madam Under Secretary [Hon. Uzra Zeya, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights]. It is a privilege to participate in this important conference. I am conscious of the long list of speakers and the limited time, so I will proceed immediately to substance, addressing Theme 2 – Evidence.
It is certainly our responsibility as countries that respect the rule of law to ensure that those who have committed ghastly crimes in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine do not escape justice.
Great courage and determination are being demonstrated in Ukraine on a daily basis and in many ways, including by domestic, foreign, and international authorities, and by representatives of non-governmental organizations, in seeking to identify, investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes. The challenges that they face in their evidence-gathering and preservation activities in the midst of the brutal war of aggression launched by Russia are formidable. In this regard, I wish to make two points:
First, every effort must be made to prevent these challenges from prompting any divergence from applicable legal standards of evidence collection, preservation and documentation, including chain-of-custody assurance. For we know that, in the future, the authenticity, admissibility and sufficiency of the evidence on which criminal charges are based will be challenged in court – vigorously – by defense counsel, which is as it should be, since the right to defense is fundamental to the rule of law. If, in the great courtroom battles that most assuredly lie ahead, proofs do not meet the standards established by law in the various jurisdictions, then cases will fail – in which event the surviving victims, the families of those who have perished, and the nation of Ukraine will not see justice done. Such a result, which would compound tragedy upon tragedy, can be averted only through clear standards, proper training and proper implementation.
Second, there is already a core group of authorities focused on the investigation and prosecution of these crimes; and they are discussing the challenges in many respects, in this international city of peace. It is clear that Ukraine will shoulder much of the burden of these prosecutions, but particular individuals will be tried in other courts as well, each judicial system with its own legal standards of evidence. These authorities should work together to facilitate, to the greatest extent possible, the successful use of the evidence no matter where eventual trials take place, so that prosecutions of perpetrators of atrocity crimes are successful. Since the evidence will likely be used in different jurisdictions, it is essential that high standards of rigor are observed and accurately conveyed to those who are and will be gathering and storing the evidence, and that oversight be put in place to facilitate quality results. The evidence is being collected as we speak. We cannot afford to lose time, but we must also ensure quality.
Dear colleagues: We look forward to hearing more today on efforts that are already under way to achieve these goals and to discussing how we may help foster their attainment.
Hon. Uzra Zeya, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, remarks: https://www.state.gov/remarks-at-the-ukraine-accountability-conference/.