US launches programme to collect Ukraine war crimes evidence

'Conflict Observatory' will analyse and preserve publicly and commercially available information

A war crimes investigator stands near buildings destroyed by Russian shelling in Borodyanka in the Kyiv region, Ukraine. Reuters
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The US State Department has announced the launch of a new programme to capture and analyse evidence of war crimes and other atrocities reportedly perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine.

The so-called Conflict Observatory will analyse and preserve publicly and commercially available information, including satellite imagery and information shared via social media, for use in current and future accountability investigations, the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This includes maintaining rigorous chain-of-custody procedures for future civil and criminal legal processes under appropriate jurisdictions,” the statement read.

An online platform will publicly share the Conflict Observatory’s documentation to “help refute Russia’s disinformation efforts and shine a light on abuses”.

US President Joe Biden has hammered Russia over what he calls “major war crimes” committed in Ukraine and has underscored his resolve to hold Moscow accountable for launching the largest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

He has also said Russia’s war in Ukraine amounted to “genocide”.

The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Russia denies attacking civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities were staged.

The State Department's new programme is a collaboration between geographic information systems company Esri, Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative and PlanetScape Ai, with future funding coming from the European Democratic Resilience Initiative.

A Ukrainian court held a preliminary hearing on Friday in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia's February 24 invasion, after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: May 17, 2022, 8:17 PM