The International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it will “immediately proceed” with an investigation into potential war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The probe was launched by an ICC prosecutor on Tuesday after receiving referrals from 39 member countries.
The investigation could target senior officials allegedly responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service has said that more than 2,000 civilians have died since the Russian invasion. The claim has not been independently verified.
The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said that it has recorded 227 civilian deaths in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
There also have been reports of the use by Russian troops of cluster bombs, with a nursery school and a hospital both reportedly hit.
“An investigation by the International Criminal Court into Russia’s barbaric acts is urgently needed and it is right that those responsible are held to account,” said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan informed the court’s judges on Tuesday that he would open an investigation that covers all sides in the conflict.
“Our work in the collection of evidence has now commenced,” Khan said in a statement.
“With an active investigation now underway, I repeat my call to all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law,” he added.
“No individual in the Ukraine situation has a license to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
Human rights groups had welcomed requests for an international war crimes investigation.
“The request for an ICC investigation reflects the growing alarm among countries about the escalating atrocities and human rights crisis that has gripped Ukraine,” said Balkees Jarrah, interim international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
“These governments are making clear that serious crimes will not be tolerated and that the court has an essential role to play in ensuring justice.”
The ICC has previously conducted a preliminary probe into crimes linked to the violent suppression of pro-European protests in Kyiv between 2013 and 2014.
There were also allegations of war crimes following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. These findings will also be included in Khan’s investigation.
The ICC was set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, especially national authorities are unwilling or unable to prosecute.