Polish prosecutors have collected over 300 witness statements from Ukrainian refugees as part of an investigation into war crimes committed by Russia. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday thanked Poland for its support in the case during a visit to the Polish-Ukrainian border.
As early as 28 February, four days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zbigniew Ziobro – who serves as both Poland’s justice minister and prosecutor general – ordered an investigation into the war.
The decision was made following a request from Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said Ziobro at the time, noting that the evidence gathered would be used to “bring the perpetrators of these crimes to international criminal liability”.
Wydałem polecenie, by polska prokuratura wszczęła śledztwo w związku ze zbrodnią wojny napastniczej, której ofiarą padła Ukraina. Będziemy dokumentować zbrodnicze działania Rosji, aby można było pociągnąć winnych tych zbrodni do międzynarodowej odpowiedzialności karnej. 2/2
— Zbigniew Ziobro | SP (@ZiobroPL) March 1, 2022
Soon after, the spokesman for Poland’s security services, Stanisław Żaryn, confirmed that officers had been visiting sites where Ukrainian refugees in Poland were being housed in order to gather information about war crimes.
At the same time, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, declared that many of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, in particular the targetting of civilians, “bear the hallmarks of genocide”.
Other leading officials – including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on a visit to Austria last week – have also accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Yesterday, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan visited western Ukraine and Poland in connection with his own organisation’s investigation into the war. He met with Ziobro and Venediktova as well as Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, and also spoke with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
At a press conference in Medyka, a crossing point on the Polish-Ukrainian border, Khan, speaking alongside Ziobro, declared that he was “extremely grateful to the government of Poland for their support for the principle of accountability”.
He noted that 41 countries, including Poland, had supported his call for the ICC to investigate potential war crimes in Ukraine and pledged that, by “working in a united way with the national authorities of Poland and all parties, we can make sure the law is put into action”.
Prokurator @KarimKhanQC z @IntlCrimCourt: Mieszkańcy Medyki i całej Polski mogą być dumni, że pomagają tym wszystkim ludziom, którzy są przerażeni i uciekają z bardzo ciężkich warunków#wieszwięcej #Ukraina pic.twitter.com/4jUlYNth1P
— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) March 16, 2022
“We are dealing with soulless, unjustified, terrible aggression against Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s criminal army, which, disregarding international standards, disregarding human pain and suffering, commits acts of cruelty that have the features of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said Ziobro.
“Prosecutor Khan and I, as prosecutor general, are documenting and will be dealing with” these crimes, he continued. “Our task is to show that criminals who commit acts of aggression, especially against the weakest, attack civilians, children, will be held responsible.”
Ziobro revealed that Polish prosecutors had collected over 300 witness statements. They “describe specific crimes and offences that took place in connection with Russia’s attack on Ukraine”, he added, noting that photographic and video evidence had also been gathered.
Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, on his visits to Ukraine and Poland: “Engagement with all actors critical for effective, independent investigations.” https://t.co/QVUVzuhLLb
— Karim A. A. Khan QC (@KarimKhanQC) March 16, 2022
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.