Sweden launches investigation into Ukraine war crimes

Sweden on Tuesday opened an investigation into suspected war crimes in Ukraine, encouraging witnesses and victims to come forward in order so secure evidence for potential future prosecutions, prosecutors said.

Sweden launches investigation into Ukraine war crimes
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in the recaptured town of Bucha, where Russian troops are accused of carrying out war crimes. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

“Given the information that is available about the situation in Ukraine, there is reason to believe that grave war crimes are being committed,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement, adding that preliminary investigation had been opened.

The authority said that currently no individual was suspected of a crime. “The purpose is to as early as possible secure evidence that could be available in Sweden so that it could be used in future legal proceedings, either in Sweden, another country’s court or in an international court such as the International Criminal Court, ICC.”

Last month the ICC launched its own probe into possible war crimes in Ukraine.

“I have notified the ICC Presidency a few moments ago of my decision to immediately proceed with active investigations in the Situation” in Ukraine, Karim Khan wrote in a statement.

The Hague-based court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan said on March 3 that he believed there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that crimes within the court’s jurisdiction had been committed.

The Swedish prosecutors on Tuesday encouraged people that have been the victims of or witnessed “violence against civilians in Ukraine” to contact authorities.

For war crimes Sweden applies a principle of universal jurisdiction, meaning that its courts can try a person on serious charges such as murder or war crimes regardless of where the alleged offences took place.

Calls for war crimes investigations and trials over Ukraine have intensified after horrific images emerged of corpses lying in the streets of the town of Bucha after the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Moscow has denied responsibility and suggested the images are fake or that the deaths occurred after Russian forces pulled out of the area.

But newly released satellite photographs taken by Maxar Technologies in mid-March, before the Russian withdrawal, showed what appeared to be bodies in some of the same places they were later found by Ukrainian troops and seen by journalists.

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Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for ‘hostile actions’

Moscow on Tuesday said it was expelling three Swedish diplomats after Stockholm expelled three Russian diplomats over the conflict in Ukraine, despite Sweden saying four were dismissed.

Russia expels Swedish diplomats in retaliation for 'hostile actions'

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it summoned the Swedish ambassador to Russia and “strongly protested” the expulsion of Russian diplomats and Sweden’s “military support to the Kyiv regime”.

It also accused Sweden of “covering up the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists against the civilian population of Donbas and Ukraine,” referring to a region in eastern Ukraine, parts of which are controlled by pro-Russia separatists.

“In response to this, the Russian side decided to declare persona non grata three diplomats of the Swedish embassy in Russia,” the ministry said.

In early April, Sweden said it was expelling three Russian diplomats who conducted “illegal operations”, following similar moves by other EU allies.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said the action was “very regrettable,” but said that a total of four diplomats had been expelled — three from the embassy in Moscow and another at the Swedish consulate in Saint Petersburg.

In a written response to AFP, Linde stressed that Sweden expelled the Russians because they had conducted operations that “violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” but claimed the Swedish diplomats had conducted “traditional diplomatic activities.”

“Sweden will respond in an appropriate manner to Russia’s unwarranted and disproportionate actions,” Linde said.