The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday said it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the ‘alleged’ war crimes in Ukraine, specifically in connection to his alleged involvement in the abductions of children from the neighbouring country.
The ICC said in a statement that 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.”
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the child abductions “for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (and) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts,” the court said in a statement.
It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children's rights, over similar crimes.
The war in Ukraine is currently in its 13th month. Russia invaded the country on February 24 last year.
What is the International Criminal Court?
The International Criminal Court in The Hague “investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community”, in complement to national courts.
The ICC has been a part of the global justice system since 2002. The crimes it probes include genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.
What does an ICC arrest warrant mean for Vladimir Putin?
The ICC order against the Russian president was immediately dismissed by Moscow and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough.
What was interesting was that while the court has indicted world leaders before, this is the first time it issued a warrant against one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
However, its practical implications could well be negligible as the ICC has no police force of its own to enforce warrants.
“The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law…The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation,” the court's president, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement.
Moreover, Moscow does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction— a position it vehemently reaffirmed on Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Russia considers its decisions “legally void” and termed the court's move “outrageous and unacceptable”.
A ‘first step’ towards justice
Even as Russia rejected the warrants, Ukraine celebrated the move. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the “wheels of justice are turning".
Olga Lopatkina, a Ukrainian mother who struggled for months to reclaim her foster children who were deported to an institution ran by Russian loyalists, welcomed the news in an exchange of messages with the Associated Press. “Everyone must be punished for their crimes,” she said.
Others, too, believed the ICC action will have an important impact.
“The 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 for far too long," said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit, or tolerating, serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague,” he said.
Prof. David Crane, who indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor 20 years ago for crimes in Sierra Leone, said dictators and tyrants around the world "are now on notice that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable to include heads of state.”
Taylor was eventually detained and put on trial at a special court in the Netherlands. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment.
On Thursday, an UN-backed inquiry cited Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, among potential issues that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
The sweeping investigation also found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory, including deported Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a “filtration” system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and
torture and inhumane detention conditions.
(With AP inputs)