Durbin Urges Secretary Of Defense To Support ICC’s Investigation Into The Atrocities Committed In Ukraine In Senate Appropriations Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, today questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) budget request.  Durbin asked Secretary Austin why the Department of Defense is not supporting sharing evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court (ICC) despite recent Congressional approval to do so.  

Yesterday, Durbin met with the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to receive an update on its investigation.  In the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) omnibus, Congress passed a provision to enable the Administration to share evidence with the ICC, which the Administration has yet to do. 

“Ukraine’s Prosecutor General has already documented more than 77,000 war crimes and crimes against humanity, and sadly the number continues to grow.  When I met with Karim Khan, I asked him if there’s more the United States could do to help him gather the evidence and documents necessary to prosecute Vladimir Putin for these awful war crimes.  He said there was cooperation from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, but he did not include the Secretary of Defense and your Department.  Khan’s efforts regarding Russian war crimes are so important that last year, Congress passed additional authorities allowing the U.S. to share critical war crimes evidence and intelligence with the ICC… Why are you reluctant to share the evidence that we have gathered in the United States [to hold] Vladimir Putin accountable for his war crimes?” Durbin asked.  

Secretary Austin responded by stating the DoD supports the goal of holding Russia accountable for its violations in Ukraine.  He also replied that he has concerns with reciprocity going forward, but supports the overall goal of holding Russia accountable.

Durbin continued to press Secretary Austin on holding Russia accountable by citing Congress’ efforts that were signed into law, which allow DoD and other departments to cooperate with the ICC.  Secretary Austin stated he is aware of the legislation that was passed.  

“Do you feel there is a deficiency in that legislation, which holds you back from prosecuting Vladimir Putin?” Durbin asked.

Secretary Austin said there is no deficiency in the legislation.  

“I have to ask for more General.  I respect you and I voted for you, and I’d do it again, but I have to ask for more.  Your personal feelings about whether you’d do it or not should be second to the law, should it not?  Well, if the law says cooperate and you refuse, what conclusion am I supposed to draw?” Durbin asked.  

Secretary Austin said he has not refused to abide by any laws despite not supporting the ICC investigation as outlined by Congress. 

“Why we would hold back evidence against this war criminal Vladimir Putin and the terrible things he’s doing I don’t understand at all.  You say you don’t think the law is deficient, but you have a feeling.  Mr. Secretary, give me more than that,” said Durbin.    

Secretary Austin concluded by saying the law is sufficient and they are “compelled to respect the law.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.


Footage of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently led a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging his Administration to support the investigation by implementing bipartisan legislation enacted in the last Congress.  This letter came after the March 17 news that the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes in Ukraine.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Holding Russian Kleptocrats and Human Rights Violators Accountable for their Crimes Against Ukraine,” with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. 

Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) 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  was signed into law by President Biden last year.