The International Criminal Court has begun a preliminary investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity in Ukraine, the court said in a statement on Friday.
Ukraine is not a member of the world's permanent war crimes court, but it has granted the ICC jurisdiction over crimes on its territory from Nov. 21, 2013, to Feb. 22, 2014, the period leading up to the fall of former president Viktor Yanukovich.
The new government of Ukraine referred the cases to the ICC, alleging that Yanukovich's troops killed over 100 protesters in Kiev and other cities. The referral runs up to the day before Russia annexed Crimea, so the investigation will not cover any crimes that might have been committed by Russian-backed troops during that period.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, slid into unrest late last year when Yanukovich rejected a pact to build closer ties with Europe. Protesters took over central Kiev and he fled in February. Days later, Russian-backed troops seized control of Crimea.
Court prosecutors will use the preliminary investigation to decide if any alleged crimes took place that are serious enough to warrant a full-blown investigation.
The ICC was established 11 years ago to prosecute individuals accused of atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Its founding treaty has been ratified by 122 nations.
The court is intended to investigate crimes when a national legal system is considered unable or unwilling to prosecute individuals. It opened in 2002 but has handed down only three verdicts so far, two convictions and an acquittal, for cases in Africa. At least five cases have collapsed for lack of evidence before or during trial.
On April 17, Ukraine accepted the court's jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed during the recent unrest. Prosecutors will collect evidence to determine whether to ask judges to issue arrest warrants or to summon people charged with crimes.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Larry King)