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Russia Withdraws Support For International Criminal Court

Ukrainian tanks near the border with the Russian-controlled region of Crimea in August.
Aleksandr Shulman

Russia is withdrawing its support for the International Criminal Court after the court released a report accusing Russia of war crimes when it seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The move follows last month's announcements by three African nations — Burundi, Gambia and South Africa — that they intend to withdraw from The Hague-based court, alleging it is biased.

A statement on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website announced "the intention not to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court." Unlike the three African countries, Russia signed the treaty establishing the court but never formally ratified the accord, so the withdrawal of its signature is largely symbolic.

The ICC report alleges that the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula "amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."

"This international armed conflict began at the latest on 26 February [2014] when the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government," the report continues.

According to Amnesty International, more than 9,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since early 2014.

Among the events listed in the ICC investigation is the shooting down of a commercial jetliner in July 2014. The Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people over eastern Ukraine was shot down by a Russian missile that had been transferred into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, and the launcher for which was returned to Russia after the shooting, a Dutch-led team of international investigators concluded earlier this year.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax-Ukraine that he disagrees with the ICC's characterization of what happened in Crimea as an armed conflict.

"Certainly, this wording absolutely contradicts the reality, it contradicts our position, and, what counts most, it contradicts the position expressed in a referendum by the citizens of Crimea, when they decided to become part of the Russian Federation," he told the news agency.

Peskov was referring to a 2014 referendum in which the Kremlin said the majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia. As The Two-Way has reported, the U.N. General Assembly rejected the results of the referendum, saying it had "no validity."

The U.S. and Europe have responded to Russia's annexation of Crimea with economic sanctions making it more difficult for Western banks and companies to do business with Russia.

The same ICC report at issue in Russia's decision to withdraw also notes the court's investigation into alleged abuses by both the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The report alleges that "members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity" between 2003 and 2014, and that "members of the CIA appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape," between 2002 and 2008.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the U.S. doesn't believe an ICC investigation is "warranted or appropriate," according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. is not a member of the ICC.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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