Big Tech companies should store evidence of Russian war crimes, US lawmakers say

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Four Democratic lawmakers have asked the CEOs of YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Meta to archive content that could be used as evidence of suspected Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russian troops of committing war crimes in its 11-week invasion of its neighbour, in which thousands of civilians have been killed. Russia has denied the allegations. However, social media posts could potentially be used as proof.

In a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the leaders of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, Carolyn Maloney and Gregory Meeks, as well as two subcommittee chairmen, William Keating and Stephen Lynch, encouraged the company to preserve content posted on its sites that was related to the conflict. 

That content "could potentially be used as evidence as the US government and international human rights and accountability monitors investigate Russian war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities in Ukraine", the letter said.

In the wake of the withdrawal of Russian troops from districts north of Kyiv last month, officials have been looking at reports that civilians were summarily executed, as well as a growing body of evidence pointing to possible rape and sexual violence. To date, Ukraine’s general prosecutor has registered over 11,000 war crimes and Unicef has reported over 100 child deaths in April alone.

On Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution to establish an investigation into possible war crimes by Russian troops in places near the capital Kyiv and beyond, a move that Russia said amounted to political score-settling.

Meanwhile, the first war crime trial has begun on Friday (13 May) in Kyiv. Russian soldier Vadim Shysimarin, a 21-year-old commander of the Kantemirovskaya tank division, is accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian after his convoy of military vehicles had come under attack from Ukrainian forces. He is said to have then driven the car away with four other soldiers as he sought to flee Ukrainian fighters.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said: “Prosecutors and investigators of the SBU [Ukrainian secret services] have collected enough evidence of his involvement in violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder. For these actions, he faces 10 to 15 years in prison or life in prison.”

The rise in popularity of social media applications has offered a new way of looking at military conflicts, as well as a tool to record and report possible human rights abuses. In this context, the four US lawmakers believe that technology companies should take on the responsibility of archiving incriminating evidence that could be examined by human rights courts to determine where war crimes were in fact committed and, if so, impose relevant sanctions. 

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