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Rep. Chris Smith. (Photo: U.S. Congressman Chris Smith).

Chris Smith: ‘…truest friend and best ally of Ukraine’

By David Wildstein, August 24 2022 5:33 pm

OPINION

Last August 24th —on the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence—Ukrainian air force jets led by “best pilot” Anton Lystopad (who was born in the year of Ukraine’s independence) flew over Kiev in celebration.

One year later—and just a few days ago— President Zelensky honored him with the Order of Courage award for his “bravery and professionalism.”  A few days after that, however, Anton was killed in combat.

The loss of extraordinarily brave Ukrainian soldiers like Anton—and the loss of thousands of civilians and the wounding of even more from Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression, further compels the United States to be the truest friend and best ally of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and tenacious leaders like Oksana Konyk and Natalia Pawlenko, have helped inform and mobilize America’s response and have led mighty efforts to tangibly assist.

We know there are 8.4 million Ukrainian refugees—the  largest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War—and another 6.6 million are internally displaced, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, or IOM.

In total, 15 million people have been driven from their homes by Vladimir Putin, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) says 17.7 million Ukrainians today are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Human trafficking networks from Ukraine to EU countries were already well-established before the war, and Ukrainian women were trafficked into the EU more than from any other country.

The UN now says that the humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine is “rapidly turning into a human trafficking one in which women and children are being exploited.”

Children are particularly vulnerable. Almost half of Ukrainian refugees are children and thousands are unaccompanied.

As prime author of America’s landmark anti-trafficking law—the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000—and as the Special Representative on combating human trafficking for the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, (OSCEPA) I continue to urge leaders and NGOs to ensure that women and children are not turned into commodities for sale by traffickers and to rescue those who have.

I, for my part, have pledged to do what I can to hold Vladimir Putin and his enablers like Belarus President Lukashenko accountable for what they have done to the noble people of Ukraine—for their mass murder, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This includes my chairing a hearing this past March on “Accountability for Russia’s War Crimes and Aggression against Ukraine” at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

We heard from experts how Putin needs to be prosecuted now—not months or years from now—for the crime of aggression against a sovereign nation, and how deliberate acts to kill civilians, target noncombatant property, and to assault a nuclear power plant constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Likewise, the use of cluster munitions and vacuum bombs against non-military targets are a horrific violation of customary international humanitarian law, as these weapons use disproportionate, brutal force in an indiscriminate manner.

Despite Russia sitting on the U.N. Security Council ready to veto establishment of a tribunal, the United Nations General Assembly could pass a resolution creating a special war crimes tribunal.

I also introduced H.Res. 966—a bipartisan Resolution that urged the creation of appropriate regional or global justice mechanisms to immediately investigate and prosecute Putin and those responsible within the Russian Federation for war crimes and the crime of aggression.

The time to act for justice and accountability is now.  “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

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