Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to sanction Russian war criminals

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A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation to codify U.S. policy toward punishing the Russian government and Russian officials for human rights abuses and war crimes in Ukraine.

The legislation, introduced on Friday, is called The Ukraine Human Rights Policy Act of 2022.

Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), the sponsor of the House version of the bill, said in a statement that the timing of the legislation, following the discovery of a mass grave of more than 400 bodies in the Ukrainian city of Izyum after a Russian retreat, reinforces U.S. resolve to seek accountability for alleged war crimes and atrocities.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reflects Vladimir Putin’s complete disregard for human life,” Fallon said in a statement.

“Reports indicate that Vladimir Putin’s war machine is responsible for the forced relocation of over 1 million Ukrainian citizens and the almost 15,000 civilian casualties. It’s barbarism such as this that has led my colleagues and I to this legislation. Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation deserve to be held accountable for every atrocity that they have committed.”

The House legislation is being co-sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and a companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

“The horrific atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine — including the recent discovery of mass graves filled with innocent Ukrainian men, women, and children — cannot go unanswered,” Rosen said in a statement.

A fact sheet provided to The Hill by Fallon’s office noted that the proposed legislation has the backing of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Action, the political arm of the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The proposal calls for updating text in legislation that established a sanctions regime against Russia for its malign behavior, called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, to better target individuals determined to be carrying out atrocities in Ukraine.

In particular it seeks to identify Russian individuals involved in Russia’s forced relocation, detention and filtration activities of Ukrainians in Russian-occupied territory and in Russia. Such an act is listed as a war crime or crime against humanity in the Geneva Convention.

“As Russia continues its ruthless and remorseless attack on Ukraine, the Ukrainian people are experiencing and the world is witnessing human rights atrocities,” Panetta said.

“By expanding the authority to apply sanctions against Russia, our Ukraine Human Rights Policy Act is a device to hold Russia accountable for its heinous acts and a deterrent against further crimes against humanity.”

Other provisions in the legislation include directing the State Department to issue a classified report to Congress on the scope of Russia’s war crimes, including human rights abuses.

“I have met with the spouses and mothers of Ukrainian soldiers currently imprisoned by Russian thugs who have no idea if their loved ones are alive or dead. I have met with Ukrainians who have suffered in unspeakable ways going back to Russia’s first invasion of Crimea in 2014,” Young said in a statement.

“Russia’s egregious human rights abuses must be met with accountability, both today and in the future. By ensuring strong sanctions are placed on the Russian Federation, this bill marks a step toward justice for the thousands of Ukrainians suffering at the hands of Russia’s barbaric aggression in Ukraine.”

–Updated at 9:41 a.m.

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