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The U.S. has assessed that Russia's military has committed war crimes in Ukraine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is gathering evidence of war crimes in Ukraine and is promising to hold Russia to account. What's more, he says, the U.S. government has already assessed that, quote, "members of Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine." NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us with more. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about these U.S. allegations.

KELEMEN: So the ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, Beth Van Schaack, says her office has been going over intelligence reports and public information, and they've concluded that Russian forces have carried out war crimes. She didn't really give a lot of examples, though she did mention, for instance, the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. And she said it's really important to document all of this. Take a listen.

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BETH VAN SCHAACK: It's incredibly important to shed a light on what's happening within Ukraine, so that the people of Ukraine understand that the world knows what they are suffering and that they're doing - they're suffering at the hands of an aggressive war that was launched unprovoked by Russia. It's also extremely important to continue to document what's happening on the ground to preserve that information as potential evidence for future accountability purposes.

KELEMEN: So, in other words, the U.S. is documenting these crimes now for war crimes trials in the future.

SHAPIRO: Trials where? Where would a case like this be heard?

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say they're looking at all options. I mean, it could be Ukrainian courts. It could be courts in European countries that have universal jurisdiction, and perhaps the International Criminal Court. The U.S. is not a part of the ICC. In fact, the Trump administration was so opposed to it that it imposed sanctions on the court. But the Biden administration lifted those sanctions. And Van Schaack seems to be keeping the door open for cooperating with the ICC in the case of Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Ukraine was a leading topic at the United Nations today, too, as was the legacy of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died today at age 84. Tell us about that.

KELEMEN: Right. So Albright was a former ambassador to the United Nations and really a towering figure in U.S. foreign policy. Many diplomats were, you know, talking about her today on the floor of the General Assembly. The current ambassador, U.S. - Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called Madeleine Albright a longtime mentor and friend.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: She was a trailblazer and a luminary, and she was the first woman to serve as secretary of state. She left an indelible mark on the world and on the United Nations. Our country and our United Nations are stronger for her service.

KELEMEN: And Thomas-Greenfield said Albright's personal story really resonates with what's happening in Ukraine. Madeleine Albright was born in Prague and came to the U.S. as a refugee - as a young refugee - and that really shaped her outlook.

SHAPIRO: And can you connect that to today's designation about war crimes in Ukraine? I mean, Albright was a forceful voice on these sorts of issues. When she was in the Clinton administration, she urged the president to get more involved to stop Serbian atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

KELEMEN: That's right, Ari. And, you know, our colleague Tom Gjelten did a report back in 1996, when Albright was ambassador to the U.N. and visiting a mass grave in Bosnia. I just want you to take a listen. But just a warning - her description was really graphic.

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MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I have spent some time on farms, and I'm actually used to seeing bones. But I have never stood so close to human bones - vertebrates, pieces of cranium and then a body that actually is decomposing. It's the most disgusting and horrifying sight for another human being to see.

KELEMEN: Very powerful words, indeed. You know, she's written a lot of books, and she's taught at Georgetown University. She was a real advocate for democracy and human rights.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.