Durbin Joins Prosecutor General Of Ukraine At Georgetown Law To Demand Justice For Ukraine

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered remarks at Georgetown Law Center’s event titled, “Justice for Ukraine: A Conversation with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin.”  In addition to Ukrainian Prosecutor General Kostin, Durbin was joined by Ambassador Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Department of State Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice. 

Durbin, Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, has spearheaded efforts in Congress to support Ukraine.  Last month, Durbin’s bipartisan, bicameral Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act was signed into law by President Biden.  The legislation 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 also extends the statute of limitations for certain war crimes.  Durbin-authored legislation restricting U.S. recognition of any Russian forcibly annexed areas of Ukraine also passed as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.  

This afternoon, Durbin will host Prosecutor General Kostin, along with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, and President of Ukraine’s Supreme Court, Vsevolod Kniaziev, to receive an update on Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, and specifically on reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Photos of the event can be found here and Durbin’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin Remarks: “Justice for Ukraine: A Conversation with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin” 

February 1, 2023

As prepared for delivery 

It’s great to be back at Georgetown.  I understand that the hottest ticket on campus these days is the Second Gentlemen’s class on dispute resolution.  Every Wednesday morning.  So it’s certainly a hopeful sign to see so many of you here, this Wednesday morning, joining in support of our friends in Ukraine. 

We have a special guest in Washington this week: Prosecutor General Kostin, thank you for being here. Thank you for leading the fight for democracy and global security. Slava Ukraini.  

Later today, I will be hosting a meeting with Prosecutor General Kostin, and several of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  It will be a chance to show that our nation’s support for Ukraine remains bipartisan, and unwavering. 

There’s not much consensus in Washington these days, but when it comes to Ukraine, we are united.  Lawmakers on both sides understand that Russia’s illegal invasion is not just a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty it’s a threat to every free nation on earth. 

So here in America, we need to keep doing our part to support Ukraine—and that includes bringing Russian war criminals to justice. 

It’s been 49 weeks since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Remember the headlines in those early days?  The predictions that Kyiv would fall within weeks, if not days?   Well, one year later: Kyiv is still standing.  That’s, first and foremost, because of the leadership of President Zelenskyy, and the unbelievable courage of the Ukrainian freedom fighters.  But it’s also because of the unified—and resolute—Western response to Russia’s invasion.  At every stage of this conflict, the U.S. and our NATO allies have come to Ukraine’s side. 

We’ve imposed crushing sanctions on Russia.  Provided billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine—from munitions, to medical supplies, you name it.  Just last week, the U.S. and Germany announced they would send nearly three dozen tanks to the frontlines.  And nobody has been watching the Western response closer than Vladimir Putin.  He has utterly failed to divide NATO—and he knows our resolve has only grown stronger with each Ukrainian victory.

And that is why—fairly early in this conflict—Putin made a harrowing calculation.  He believes his last hope for winning this war is terrorizing and brutalizing the Ukrainian people into submission. 

Over the past year, Vladimir Putin has turned eight million Ukrainians—almost one-fifth of the country’s population—into refugees.  He’s reduced entire cities to rubble. And worst of all: He has condoned the torture and murder of civilians.  With every territory Ukraine has reclaimed—from Bucha to Izyum—we’ve seen the same scene.  Mass graves, bodies with skulls crushed, faces mutilated beyond recognition.  Last year, Prosecutor General Kostin told me his office has documented more than 50,000 war crimes since the invasion began. 

So as Putin continues his campaign of brutality, it is imperative that the U.S. not only provide military might to the people of Ukraine—but legal might as well.  We have a responsibility to hold Putin and his henchmen accountable for every single war crime they have committed.  And this is not merely an American responsibility—it’s an American legacy.

Last Friday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A day during which we pledge ‘Never Again’ and recommit ourselves to a mission America started back in 1945, with the Nuremberg Trials.   When the Nuremberg Trials first convened at the Palace of Justice in Bavaria, it marked a watershed in the history of international law.  Six months after the last concentration camp was liberated, the most powerful nations in the world joined together—not to exact revenge, but to deliver justice.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who served as America’s Chief Prosecutor, the Nuremberg Trials were, ‘one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.’  Justice Jackson recognized that the best corrective to the brutish lawlessness of the Nazi regime was the rule of law.  And that principle—defending human rights through the rule of law—has served as the bedrock of the postwar alliance. 

Unfortunately, in more recent years, America has fallen short of defending that principle.  Time and again, we have failed to hold war criminals accountable. Some—astonishingly—have even found safe haven on American soil.  And why is that? Well, it’s a result of the glaring loopholes in our criminal laws. Previously, the narrow jurisdiction of the War Crimes Act—and the lack of a crimes against humanity statute entirely—provided war criminals a free pass in our country. 

For years, I have worked to close those loopholes, and ensure our nation lives up to the promise of Nuremberg.  But I must admit: It’s been a lonely crusade in Congress.  Some of you may know that I currently serve as the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

But the first time I held a gavel on the Committee was actually 16 years ago, when I chaired Congress’s first-ever Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law.  We formed that Subcommittee to protect human rights here at home—and abroad.  And over the years, we’ve actually won some bipartisan victories.  There’s the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007, which granted DOJ power to prosecute war criminals on American soil who had participated in genocide.  And, the Child Soldiers Accountability Act of 2008, which made it a crime under U.S. law to recruit or use child soldiers. As well as the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009, which authorized an office at the Justice Department to focus on prosecuting modern war crimes.  But, since then, there have been few legislative victories to speak of.

The students here today are too young to have known Father Robert Drinan.  He was a professor here at Georgetown Law, and one of America’s great champions on human rights.  Years before he died, Father Drinan wrote an article in which he argued that defending human rights is not only America’s responsibility—it is our “destiny.”  Well, when you believe that, as I do, it puts each legislative loss into context.  We don’t fight for human rights because it’s easy—we do it because it’s right. It is our destiny—no matter how long it takes.

Fast forward about 15 years after I first formed that Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law.  A foreign President—who, until last year, was little known—flew to Washington.   It was late December 2022. Days before the Senate was set to adjourn for the year. But before we left for the holidays, this President had something to say.  His name is Volodmyr Zelenskyy.  “Speaking before Congress, President Zelenskyy reminded us of our history defending freedom and human rights.  He reminded us that, today, Ukrainians are fighting for the same freedoms America’s founders fought for back in 1776.  And, President Zelenskyy also reminded us that America has the power to, ‘bring to justice everyone who started this unprovoked and criminal war.’  He’s right.  And whether or not we exercise that power will define the world my grandchildren—and all of your children—grow up in.  President Zelenskyy’s message to Congress came at the exact moment we needed to hear it.

Just hours after he spoke, the Senate voted to pass the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act.  This bipartisan law, which I introduced with Senator Chuck Grassley, finally closes a loophole in our criminal code that has enabled foreign war criminals to evade justice.  Let me give you a brief example: back in 2004, a man named Marko Boskic was discovered living in Massachusetts.  He had participated in the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia.  But when he was found by U.S. authorities, he wasn’t charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity.  He was charged with visa fraud. Because our laws did not provide jurisdiction over foreign war criminals or crimes against humanity.  Here’s the good news: With the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, we closed the war crimes loophole.  Now, no war criminal like Marko Boskic will ever be able to use America as a safe haven again.  It goes to show that our bipartisan support for Ukraine will leave behind a lasting legacy.  While Russia’s invasion was the impetus for finally passing this law, it will remain on the books forever.

It’s a crucial victory, but we have more work to do.  We need to seize this momentum to close the remaining gap in our laws for crimes against humanity.  And, we need to join the world in ensuring that Russia’s leadership is held accountable for the crime of aggression.  And really, what I want to close with is this: The path to justice can be long, it can be lonely—but don’t ever think that our work is futile.  In a closely divided Congress, we came together—on a bipartisan basis—to live up to the promise of Nuremberg.  We enacted a measure that will deliver justice to the Ukrainian families who have been displaced, brutalized, and terrorized.

And now, we need keep moving forward.  We need all of you to enter the arena—and join the fight for human rights at home and around the world.  Thank you.