At THE HAGUE, the ICC announced on Friday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of war crimes related to the kidnapping of children from Ukraine.
It was the first time the international court issued an arrest warrant for a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but world leaders have been indicted before.
In a statement, the court said, “Putin is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of (children) and that of unlawful transfer of (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
The court also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Russian Federation’s commissioner for children’s rights.
Russia scoffed at the proposal right away, but in Ukraine it was seen as a huge step forward. However, its real-world impact may be limited because it is highly unlikely that either will ever be tried by the International Criminal Court.
But Putin will carry the stigma of moral condemnation with him for the rest of his life and, more immediately, whenever he attempts to attend an international summit in a country that might be bound to arrest him.
So, “Putin might go to China, Syria, Iran, his… few allies, but he just won’t travel to the rest of the world and won’t travel to ICC member states who he believes would actually… arrest him,” as one expert on international law and armed conflict from Rutgers University put it.
The consensus was reached by others. Vladimir Putin will be universally reviled from this day forward. His political standing has collapsed worldwide. To the same degree, any world leader who publicly supports him deserves to be publicly shamed. International prosecutor David Crane told the AP.
The president of the International Criminal Court, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement that the international community is responsible for carrying out the arrest warrants issued by the ICC. Unfortunately, the court cannot enforce its own rules because it lacks a police force.
Warrants of arrest were issued by the judges. He emphasized the importance of international cooperation for the successful execution of the plan.
The court can impose a maximum sentence of life imprisonment “when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person,” according to its founding treaty known as the Rome Statute.
Even so, it is highly unlikely that Putin will ever face trial, as Moscow has repeatedly stated that it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, most recently on Friday.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated the Kremlin’s stance that Moscow does not recognize the ICC and views its rulings as “legally void.” And he said Russia finds the court’s action to be “outrageous and unacceptable.”
When asked if Putin would try to avoid traveling to countries where he might be arrested on the ICC’s warrant, Peskov remained silent.
According to Dmytro Lubinets, head of Ukraine’s human rights office, 16,226 children were deported in 2015, citing statistics from the country’s National Information Bureau. A total of 308 kids have been returned to Ukraine.
Similarly implicated in the warrant, Lvova-Belova responded with dripping sarcasm. “It is great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in war zones, that we take them out, we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people,” she said.
Ukraine’s government was ecstatic about the change.
It was a “historic decision, from which historic responsibility will begin,” as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky put it in his nightly address to the nation.
“The world changed,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. The foreign minister of his country, Dmytro Kuleba, recently declared that “the wheels of justice are turning” and that “international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”
Ukrainian mother Olga Lopatkina, who fought for months to get her foster children back from a facility run by Russian loyalists, was relieved to hear the news of the arrest warrant. To the AP, she exclaimed, “Good news!” in a series of messages. All criminals “must face the full weight of the law.”
Though it is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ukraine has accepted its jurisdiction over its territory four times since the investigation began a year ago.
The United States and China are the only other non-ICC members besides Russia and Ukraine.
The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court concluded that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the kidnappings “for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others, and/or through others” and for failing to “exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts.”
Prosecutor Khan for the International Criminal Court recently visited a children’s home in southern Ukraine, saying it was just over a mile away from the battlefield.
Drawings tacked up on the wall “spoke to a context of love and support that was once there,” he said. “But this house was empty, allegedly because children had been deported from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or unlawfully transferred to other parts of the temporarily occupied territories,” the author writes.
These allegations are being thoroughly investigated by my office, as I told the UN Security Council last September. The children are not the loot,” Khan emphasized.
And while Russia has deemed the ICC’s allegations and warrants to be null and void, others have claimed the court’s action will have significant repercussions.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has “made Putin a wanted man” and “taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine,” as Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, put it. “The warrants convey an unmistakable message that ordering or tolerating serious crimes against civilians may result in a prison cell in The Hague,” according to the press release announcing the arrest warrants.
Twenty years ago, Crane indicted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone. He recently warned other dictators and tyrants that they, too, will be held accountable for their actions.
Taylor was arrested and tried in a Dutch court of special jurisdiction. He was found guilty and given a life sentence in prison.
“This is a significant day for justice and for the people of Ukraine,” Crane told the Associated Press.
In a report released on Thursday, an investigation backed by the United Nations said that Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine could amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity because they involve systematic torture and killing in occupied regions.
Crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory were also uncovered by the extensive probe. These included the deportation of children from Ukraine and their subsequent inability to reunite with their families, the use of a “filtration” system to selectively detain Ukrainians, as well as torture and inhumane detention conditions.
On Friday, however, the ICC publicly linked Putin to the child abduction allegations.