In a landmark move, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for committing war crimes in Ukraine. US President Joe Biden has welcomed the move, stating that Putin had “clearly” committed the crimes in question.
The ICC’s claims center on the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia following Moscow’s invasion in 2022. The UN also released a report earlier this week, stating that the forced removal of Ukrainian children to areas under Russian control amounted to a war crime.
Moscow has vehemently denied the allegations and dismissed the warrants as “outrageous”. Russia is not an ICC member country, meaning the court has no jurisdiction there. Therefore, it is unlikely that much will come of the move, as the ICC has no powers to arrest suspects without the cooperation of a country’s government.
However, the warrant could affect Putin in other ways, such as being unable to travel internationally. He could now be arrested if he sets foot in any of the court’s 123 member states. Putin is only the third president to be issued with an ICC arrest warrant.
President Biden’s administration had previously “formally determined” that Russia had committed war crimes during the conflict in Ukraine. Vice-President Kamala Harris had also stated in February that those involved would “be held to account”. President Biden said that, while the court held no sway in the US, the issuing of the warrant “makes a very strong point”.
The ICC’s Position
In a statement, the ICC said that it had reasonable grounds to believe that Putin had committed the criminal acts directly, as well as working with others. It also accused him of failing to use his presidential powers to stop children being deported. Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, is also wanted by the ICC for the same crimes.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has said that the warrants were “based upon forensic evidence, scrutiny, and what’s been said by those two individuals”. The court had initially considered keeping the arrest warrants a secret, but decided to make them public to try and prevent further crimes from being committed.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed any of the court’s decisions as “null and void”, while former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev compared the warrant to toilet paper. Russian opposition activists, however, have welcomed the announcement. Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has tweeted that it was “a symbolic step” but an important one. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also expressed his gratitude to Mr. Khan and the ICC for their decision to press charges against “state evil”.
In a BBC interview, Mr. Khan said that “children can’t be treated as the spoils of war, they can’t be deported. This type of crime doesn’t need one to be a lawyer, one needs to be a human being to know how egregious it is”. He also pointed out that nobody thought that Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader who went on trial for war crimes in the 1990s, would end up in The Hague to face justice. “Those that feel that you can commit a crime in the daytime and sleep well at night should perhaps look at history,” Mr. Khan said.
The issuing of an arrest warrant against Putin is a significant development, even if it is unlikely to result in his arrest. It sends a clear message that war crimes will not be tolerated and that those responsible will be held accountable, no matter their position.
The situation between Russia and Ukraine has been tense since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, which was followed by a conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
The ICC’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against President Putin is a significant development in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It sends a strong message that the international community will not tolerate war crimes and human rights violations, regardless of the power and influence of the perpetrators.
However, it remains to be seen what impact the ICC’s move will have on the ground. The fact that Russia is not a member of the ICC and has already rejected the warrants as “outrageous” suggests that there is little chance of President Putin being arrested and brought to justice anytime soon. Nevertheless, the ICC’s decision could put pressure on Russia to change its behavior in Ukraine and avoid further international isolation.
The arrest warrant against President Putin also highlights the importance of international law and the need for a strong and effective system of international justice. The ICC was established in 2002 to investigate and prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Its mandate is to ensure accountability for the worst human rights abuses, even when domestic legal systems are unable or unwilling to do so.
In recent years, the ICC has faced criticism for its perceived lack of effectiveness and its failure to bring to justice high-profile suspects, such as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted for war crimes and genocide in Darfur but was never arrested. The arrest warrant against President Putin is a reminder that the ICC still has a critical role to play in holding leaders accountable for their actions and promoting justice and accountability on a global scale.
The ICC’s decision to issue an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine is a significant development in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. While it is unlikely that President Putin will be arrested and brought to justice anytime soon, the ICC’s move sends a strong message that the international community will not tolerate war crimes and human rights violations. The arrest warrant also highlights the importance of international law and the need for a strong and effective system of international justice.