The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin along with Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova. Russia’s president is accused of ordering the illegal deportations of children from occupied territories of Ukraine following Moscow’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
Putin is charged under two paragraphs of the Rome Statute’s Article 8: “unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement” and “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.” “There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” says the court. Russia does not deny deporting Ukrainian children and says this has been necessary for their safety and “reeducation.”
The Kremlin has once again highlighted that Russia doesn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction. “We consider the question itself outrageous and unacceptable,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding, “Russia, like a number of other countries, doesn’t recognize this court’s jurisdiction, and accordingly any decisions of this sort are negligible for Russia, from a legal point of view.” Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s ex-president who currently serves as the deputy chair of the National Security Council, tweeted that there’s “no need to explain WHERE this paper should be used,” disparaging the arrest warrant with a toilet-paper emoji.
Lvova-Belova responded to her own arrest warrant facetiously: “It’s great to know that our work to help our country’s children has been noticed by the international community.”
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin called the ICC’s move “a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire system of international law.” “From now on,” he wrote, “the Russian president will have the official status of a suspect in committing an international crime.” This means that other world leaders “will think thrice before shaking hands with him or sitting down with him at the negotiating table. The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal, and its leadership and allies will be brought to justice.”
The ICC has jurisdiction in countries that have signed the Rome Statute, but a suspect can be a national of any country. Although Ukraine isn’t party to the statute, Kyiv recognizes the ICC’s jurisdiction in prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide that have taken place on Ukrainian territory since December 2013. Nevertheless, Russia’s leadership cannot be prosecuted for “crimes of aggression” in Ukraine, however, as that would require both parties to the conflict to recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.
Until now, the ICC has only issued one warrant to arrest an acting head of state. This was the Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who had been charged with genocide in 2008. In spite of the warrant, al-Bashir continued to travel internationally, including visits to countries that had ratified the Rome Statute. In 2019, al-Bashir was overthrown by a military coup, and the new government declared two years later that it would hand him over to the Hague.
But this still hasn’t happened.