After months of investigations, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday for his alleged responsibility for war crimes committed in Ukraine since February 24, 2022, specifically the illegal deportation of children and the forced displacement of people, including minors, from the occupied areas of this country to the Russian Federation.
Judges have also issued an international arrest warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, for her alleged responsibility for the same acts. The charges announced by The Hague are the first international indictments against the Kremlin since the start of the war. “This is only the beginning”, has predicted the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell. For Putin’s spokesman, the orders “have no validity.”
After examining the evidence presented by the prosecutor, Karim Khan, the preliminary issues chamber has concluded that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin has individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” the Court announced in a communiqué, either for having committed those acts directly, together with others or through others, or for their inability to “adequately control their civilian and military subordinates” who have committed or enabled these acts. Lvova-Belova, for her part, is accused of committing or ordering these acts. In a recent television broadcast, the senior official thanked the president for having been able to “adopt” a 15-year-old boy from Ukraine herself.
Publicizing the warrants “can prevent” further crimes, the ICC argues
The presiding judge of the ICC, the Polish Piotr Józef Hofmański, explained in a video message that, despite the interest in protecting the ongoing investigation, given the indications that these conducts “continue to occur”, the Court has considered that “It is in the interest of justice” to authorize the publication of these orders since their publicity can contribute to the prevention of new crimes. In recent days, there had been speculation about the possibility of the ICC also opening a case against Russia for attacks against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, but for the moment The Hague has only taken the step in relation to the kidnapping of children, some facts by the that the European Union has sanctioned several Russian politicians. The Court, in a historic decision that also takes the war to the judicial field, attributes these acts directly to Putin.
In a separate statement, the prosecutor has explained that his team has gathered “evidence” that “at least hundreds of children” Ukrainians have been taken from orphanages and reception centers; many, he says, “have been given up for adoption in the Russian Federation,” which has adopted legal changes, approved by presidential decrees signed by Putin, to expedite the granting of Russian citizenship, making it easier for them to be adopted by Russian families. “These and other acts demonstrate the intention to remove these children from their country permanently,” Khan defends. Several investigations in recent months had denounced the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children, both young and adolescent, to be handed over to Russian families or placed in “re-education” camps. The Kremlin does not deny the existence of these programs but rather presents them as a humanitarian mission to help children affected by the war.
NGO Human Rights Watch estimates that 32,000 of the 105,000 Ukrainian children who were in residential institutions before the war – nearly half disabled – were in now-occupied areas. “Ukrainian activists and lawyers indicate that at least several thousand of these children have ended up forcibly deported to Russia or to other territories it occupies,” says the organization, which today celebrated the ICC decision, “the first step to end the impunity that has emboldened Russia’s perpetrators of war crimes against Ukraine for far too long”.
Possibilities to try Russian citizens in The Hague are limited
The Hague does not recognize immunity for heads of state in cases of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, but the possibilities to try any Russian citizen at the ICC are nevertheless very limited. Moscow does not recognize its jurisdiction and has a practice of not extraditing its nationals, regardless of their charges. Putin would have to travel to a country that is a signatory to the institution (there are 123) to potentially be arrested. And the Court, for its part, does not judge cases in absentia. The international order however further restricts President Putin’s ability to travel abroad. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, recalled today that “Russia, like a certain number of countries”, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and, consequently, its decisions are null and void.
#ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański on recent arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova in the context of the situation in #Ukraine
More info: https://t.co/5OMC7Xuuy5 pic.twitter.com/45bT4mHqIs
— Int’l Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) March 17, 2023 “>
“The wheels of Justice are in motion”, celebrates Minister Kuleba
For Kyiv, on the other hand, the ICC decision is hopeful news. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba immediately applauded The Hague’s decision. “The wheels of Justice are in motion (…), international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes,” he tweeted. Ukraine is not a member of the Court but has been given jurisdiction over its territory and its prosecutor has visited it several times since the opening of the investigation about a year ago. Yesterday, an independent United Nations-backed investigation included Russia’s systematic acts of torture and murder in the occupied regions as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the forced deportation of children and detention in inhumane conditions.
“The seriousness of the crimes and the ICC statement speak for themselves. This is an important decision for international justice and the people of Ukraine,” Borrell said from Macedonia. “The EU has always made it clear that those responsible for the illegal aggression against Ukraine must be brought to Justice and this ICC order is only the beginning of that process to hold Russia and its leaders to account for the crimes and atrocities committed. “. The EU, he recalled, supports the investigations of the ICC. “There can be no impunity”, concluded the head of European diplomacy.