New Zealand Government Declines War Crime Investigation in Aid Worker Deaths in Ukraine

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Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry were shot while evacuating civilians a year ago.

The New Zealand government says it will not investigate whether the death of two aid workers, one of whom was a New Zealander, in Ukraine’s Soledar region a year ago, is a potential war crime.

However, experts say more needs to be done, and the parents of the victim are pressing for the New Zealand and UK governments to send their investigators to Kyiv.

Initially, Dame Sue and Professor Phil Bagshaw were told their son Andrew Bagshaw, and British man Christopher Parry, had been trying to rescue an elderly woman when their car was hit by an artillery shell.

Subsequently, however, post-mortem results showed both men died from gunshot wounds to the head and other parts of the body. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, intentionally killing a civilian in an armed conflict constitutes a war crime.

The Bagshaws say evidence points to the pair being shot by the Wagner Group, the private military company under Russian state control, including the fact that, just days after their death, the Group’s Telegram channel showed pictures of both men’s passports.

However, the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs has said that, while it condemned the killings, it will not be investigating further.

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“In the current situation, the ICC [International Criminal Court] and Ukraine authorities are best placed to pursue any further investigation including obtaining evidence,” the Ministry said in a statement to RNZ, New Zealand’s public broadcaster.

Similarly, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it does not investigate war crimes and that any further investigation is for Ukrainian authorities.

But Phil Bagshaw says he had spoken to one Ukrainian investigator who already has over 10,000 war crimes cases to deal with.

“This is the responsibility of the New Zealand and UK government to investigate a war crime of a foreign national killed on foreign soil,” he said.

Professor of International Relations from the University of Otago, Robert Patman, said New Zealand and the UK could work together to investigate the death and thereby show they were serious about war crimes.

“It’s very important, I think, that New Zealand walks the talk about upholding the rule of law, even at the time of war, and that is our official position so we need to be [as] active as we can to pursue this,” he said.

Further, Dr. Marnie Lloyd, a specialist in the law of armed conflict at Victoria University of Wellington, said that under international humanitarian law, countries must help facilitate war crimes investigations, even if they did not occur in their territory.

If Ukrainian authorities agreed, New Zealand or UK officials could travel there to help investigate the deaths as part of a broader ICC case against Wagner Group members.

“It’s not only about punishing the person or deterring future war crimes, but it is about documenting and witnessing what has happened,” she said.

Investigators from Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Romania have gone to Ukraine to help with the work of the ICC, but support from NZ and the UK has been limited to funding prosecutions.

The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said last year it was looking into 100,000 allegations of war crimes committed by Russia, with numbers rising steadily as the conflict continues.

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