By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A New Jersey congressman called for prosecuting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials for war crimes immediately during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said that during the 90-minute session April 21 attended by about eight Democratic and Republican Congress members that Russia's actions since its armed forces invaded Ukraine Feb. 24 deserve a rapid response from the world.
"I believe prosecution ought to be done in the quickest most effective way," Smith told Catholic News Service April 22.
Smith also said he urged that the pressing humanitarian crisis that exists in Europe be addressed promptly: An estimated 5 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland and millions more are displaced internally, according to the United Nations.
The large number of displaced people puts them at a rising risk of human trafficking, he added.
"The predators imbed themselves at train stations and receiving stations, promising a place to stay and support. I'm concerned there's not enough being done to help people understand the signs of potentially being trafficked," Smith said.
Shmyhal was in Washington to appeal for more military and humanitarian aid from the United States and global financial institutions to allow Ukraine to respond the Russia's military assault.
Meeting April 21 with officials of the World Bank and International Monetary fund, who gathered in Washington for their annual spring meetings, Shmyhal said set the cost of rebuilding Ukraine from Russia's attack at $600 billion and appealed to the world to help.
During the meeting with members of Congress, Smith said he proposed that the full U.N. General Assembly create an ad hoc tribunal that could act more quickly on war crimes charges against Russian officials.
He explained that such a step by the General Assembly would bypass any action by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and its ally China would likely veto the establishment of a tribunal that would hold Putin and other Russian leaders accountable for aggression against Ukraine.
Several nations and the International Criminal Court have joined Ukraine in opening investigations into Russian military actions against nonmilitary targets including the shelling of civilian residences, hospitals and schools, execution-style killings and alleged rape of women and children.
International humanitarian law experts have said such investigations are complex and can take years to complete and faces roadblocks because the nations involved are not party to the 2002 treaty that established the ICC.
Smith said he believed action needed to occur immediately, however.
"The indictments can always be added to and supplemented," he said. "An original indictment of Putin and others would make them pariahs."