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‘No impunity’: Canada joins G7 pledge to coordinate Russian war crimes probes

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Canada is working with its G7 counterparts to coordinate investigations into alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

Justice Minister David Lametti issued the Berlin Declaration alongside other G7 justice ministers, which pledged “no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities.”

“Criminal prosecution of core international crimes is of the highest priority to us,” read the declaration, which was published on Tuesday.

“We will therefore ensure there is a central national contact point in each state for the prosecution of these international crimes, if none currently exists, and share the contact details with our partners to provide an easily accessible entrance for international coordination.”

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The declaration follows months of a brutal war in Ukraine, which began earlier this year when Russia invaded the country in a bid to illegally annex large swaths of its territory.

On Sept. 23, a UN-mandated investigation body found that war crimes, including rape, torture and confinement of children, had been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as he unveiled the findings.

Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.

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They found evidence of a large number of executions including bodies with tied hands, slit throats and gunshot wounds to the head, Mose said. Investigators had identified victims of sexual violence, he added, aged between four and 82.

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Russia, meanwhile, has denied deliberately attacking civilians and has denounced the alleged atrocities as a Western smear campaign.

Despite this denial, the G7 justice ministers doubled down in their Berlin Declaration.

“We condemn in the strongest terms Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The Russian Federation is blatantly violating international law, in particular the UN Charter,” the declaration read.

“We also condemn in the strongest terms the ongoing attacks, the killing and wounding of civilians, non-combatants and prisoners of war, the disappearance of children, the systemic targeting of critical infrastructure and the extensive harm to healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence in Ukraine.”

The declaration stated that it is the “common goal” of G7 nations to “establish the responsibility of offenders in proceedings conducted in compliance with the rule of law and due process.”

“We remain steadfast in our shared commitment to achieving this goal,” the declaration read.

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Investigations into alleged war crimes, the G7 ministers said, must be coordinated “from an early stage.”

“This will further help our investigating authorities to proceed efficiently, avoid duplication of work and the retraumatisation of victims and witnesses, and prevent gaps in the investigations,” they wrote.

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“To this end, we will endeavour to increase the use of existing and proven mechanisms in accordance with their respective mandates.”

In the declaration, the ministers said they will work with relevant NGOs and Ukrainian authorities as this work gets underway.

It will also use the Genocide Network — a body tasked with investigating and prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the Council of the European Union — as a “network of national contact points” to facilitate information sharing.

“We confirm our continued effort to support Ukrainian judicial authorities,” the declaration stated.

— with files from Reuters, The Canadian Press

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