Heeding the Senators’ call to utilize existing authorities to prosecute war criminals, the Justice Department filed charges under the U.S. war crimes statute for the first time ever.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released the following statement on the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcing first-of-its-kind war crimes charges against four Russian men in connection to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

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“Today’s announcement by the Justice Department is a welcome step. The four Russian military personnel charged allegedly interrogated, tortured, and threatened to kill an American civilian during the Ukraine war—even holding a mock execution. Those horrific actions cannot and will not go unanswered.

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“We applaud the Justice Department for using the important tools in the War Crimes Act to prosecute perpetrators of horrific atrocities in Ukraine. America must continue its multifaceted approach to holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, we will continue addressing the major gaps in our existing laws so that our government has all the tools it needs to prosecute these gut-wrenching offenses.”

Durbin has long pressed for DOJ to utilize its existing authorities to prosecute war crimes, while working to expand such authorities. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Durbin, Graham, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) authored the bipartisan Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act – which updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or victim. The bill was signed into law by President Biden.

Durbin offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 National Defense Authorization Actthat would have enabled the Justice Department to also prosecute crimes against humanity. Durbin-authored legislation restricting U.S. recognition of any forcibly annexed areas of Ukraine by Russia also passed as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Earlier this year, the Biden Administration heeded Durbin and Graham’s bipartisan call to support the ICC’s investigation into atrocities in Ukraine, utilizing the enhanced authority provided by Congress in the FY23 Omnibus. Durbin also held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Holding Russian Kleptocrats and Human Rights Violators Accountable for their Crimes Against Ukraine,” with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

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