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War in Ukraine may bring US attorney general to novel G7 meeting

Germany is hosting a first-ever G-7 meeting of Ministers of Justice, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has a special invitation.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Leaders from the G-7 tested the bounds of diplomacy Thursday in talks about a first-ever meeting of ministers of justice to address the scale of war crimes Russia has been perpetrating 239 days into its invasion of Ukraine.

“I firmly believe that USA would be instrumental in achieving progress in the fight against impunity for war crimes,” German Justice Minster Marco Buschmann said this afternoon, speaking with reporters at the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington alongside U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Germany is hosting the upcoming G-7 meeting of ministers of justice in November, Buschmann explained, “to explore how better to coordinate the prosecution of war crimes.” The bilateral meeting comes one month after Garland met with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin and signed a memorandum of understanding to ensure each country’s Russo-Ukrainian war crime prosecutions do not conflict.

Kostin had said last month that the country tracks its war crimes cases in a database, and that, as of Sept. 20, there were reports of at least 34,000 crimes, including sex crimes and kidnappings.

Garland said the topic of Thursday's meeting was the urgency of pursuing “every avenue of accountability” for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

A reporter asked Garland on Thursday if the U.S. is considering putting aside previous concerns about constitutional issues to join the International Criminal Court.

The attorney general demurred, noting that current law limits the degree to which the U.S. can provide support for the International Criminal Court, but it does not “prevent any kind of support.”

“We are exploring the different ways in which we can support the operation, not the operations, but the work of the ICC,” Garland said.

Buschmann meanwhile said “we would be very happy” if the U.S. joined the international court, “but [we] absolutely understand the restrictions — we have to accept a lot — regarding the fight against war crimes in Ukraine.”

The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 with the goal to “bring justice the perpetrators of the worse crimes known to humankind — war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide” when national courts are either unwilling or unable to do so.

At least 123 countries are members of the global court. The U.S. has come close to joining, but has resisted over issues with having to allow the international court to prosecute individuals for crimes committed on U.S. soil for which the U.S. would otherwise have jurisdiction.

Buschmann said Thursday that his talk with Garland made clear that the U.S. attorney general is “deeply conscious” of the value of international legal cooperation between Europe and the U.S.

“We went so far as to discuss for closer international cooperation on the prosecution of war crimes might look like in practice and what specific measures are required,” Buschmann said.

He characterized the meeting Thursday with Garland as sending a “powerful signal” that the transatlantic partnership is strong and “has in fact become even stronger as a result of Russia’s criminal war.”

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion on Ukraine began Feb. 24, Garland launched KleptoCapture, a task force aimed at enforcing sanctions against Russian oligarchs, in March, followed by the creation of a War Crimes Accountability Team in June.

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