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Gardaí should gather evidence of Russia's war crimes by interviewing refugees, says Flanagan

The former justice minister has written to the Garda Commissioner asking for the the gardaí to take statements.

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER Charlie Flanagan has written to the Garda Commissioner asking that the gardaí take statements from Ukrainian refugees in Ireland as to their direct evidence of war crimes in their homeland.

Speaking to The Journal, the Laois-Offaly TD said he believes the evidence should be documented and used as evidence against Russia in a possible future war crimes tribunal.

“I believe these war crimes must be punished and those responsible brought to account. However, evidence is needed. There are thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, all of whom have fled a horrific situation.

“When the time is right, and when they feel comfortable, I believe they should make statements to the Irish authorities on their experience, and these statements can help in the gathering of evidence of war crimes,” he said.

He said the evidence must be collected, documented, recorded and must be secured in order to reach a standard that is necessary for court. 

“I’ve asked the Garda Commissioner to become involved and to assist with the taking of the statements,” he confirmed.

Flanagan said the United Nations agencies and NGOs will have a role to play, but said it is the gardaí that should begin the work.

“I believe this should be formalised by the Irish authorities under An Garda Siochana,” he said. 

Flanagan said there is evidence of war crimes in terms of the targeting of clinics,  hospitals, schools and kindergartens, but added that evidence needs to be recorded. 

0517 Cabinet Meetings Former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

A top UN human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday that her office had received “credible allegations” that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times. 

She said the killing of civilians and the destroying of hospitals are acts that may amount to war crimes. 

A team of investigators from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is probing possible war crimes in Ukraine. The ICC is the only court with jurisdiction to prosecute people for war crimes, the crime of aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity. 

The list of war crimes set out in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes a long index of offences including “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.”

It also includes “attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives.”

“I’m asking is that the Irish authorities and the Ukrainian refugees assist in the gathering of evidence and the submission of evidence to the International Criminal Court,” Flanagan said. 

He said he recognised that Ukrainian refugees are “fragile and vulnerable” having fled their home country.

“I’m asking that statements only be made by those who feel comfortable and who feel that they can assist. Of course, these statements will be voluntary. But I believe it’s important that they be made while memories are fresh,” he said, stating that the evidence could be of “great importance” to any future tribunal.

“I’ve been speaking to Ukrainian MPs and people on the ground and they have made this point,” he added. 

In terms of Ireland taking in and housing thousands of Ukrainian refugees, the former minister said it is a “big challenge” .

“When I was Minister for Justice, we we had a challenge with the resettlement of up to 5,000 Syrians. We had a challenge with housing, asylum seekers. I don’t underestimate this challenge now, particularly in the context of a promise by the government to abolish direct provision,” he concluded.

Over 16,000 refugees have arrived in Ireland from the Ukraine. It is expected that 30,000 refugees will be in Ireland by the end of April. 

The Journal asked An Garda Síochana for comment but none was forthcoming by the time of publication.

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