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The bombing of a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, where hundreds of civilians had taken refuge in the first weeks of the Russian invasion, constituted a “clear war crime”, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.
The rights group interviewed dozens of survivors of the attack and analyzed satellite imagery, radar data, architectural plans of the structure and video evidence to reach its conclusion.
“Many people were injured and killed in this ruthless attack. Their deaths were likely caused by Russian forces deliberately targeting Ukrainian civilians,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement on Thursday. .
“The International Criminal Court, and all other courts with jurisdiction over crimes committed during this conflict, must investigate this attack as a war crime. All those responsible must be held accountable for causing so much death and destruction. “
The Drama Theater in Mariupol, which is a key port city on the Sea of Azov coast, became a meeting point for civilians fleeing the violence and seeking food, water and shelter.
On the morning of March 16, Amnesty International estimates that two 500 kg bombs were dropped on the theater by Russian tactical fighter jets.
“There was no legitimate military objective in the vicinity of the [theater]. There was no significant military presence in or near the [theater] at the time of the attack or in the days leading up to the attack,” Amnesty International said in its statement.
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“CHILDREN” had been written in large Russian letters on the ground outside the theater for at least three days before the attack.
Russia claimed its forces captured Mariupol in late May after about two months of heavy fighting.
Death estimates vary widely. Amnesty International says at least a dozen people have died, but the true figure is likely much higher. The Mariupol City Council said 300 people had died, while an Associated Press investigation concluded that as many as 600 had died.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied that their forces struck the theatre, instead blaming the Ukrainian military for blowing up the structure.
The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on Amnesty International’s report.
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The International Criminal Court and the United Nations Human Rights Council opened investigations into alleged Russian war crimes in May.
Attorney General Merrick Garland visited Ukraine last week and reaffirmed U.S. support during a meeting with Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova.
“America – and the world – have seen the many horrifying images and read the harrowing tales of brutality and death that resulted from Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine,” Garland said in a statement. . “There is no hiding place for war criminals.”