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18 March 2023: International Criminal Court

  • Context: The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of war crimes in Ukraine.

    Background: The International Criminal Court said Putin bears personal criminal responsibility for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February last year. The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who has been the public face of a Kremlin-sponsored program in which Ukrainian children and adolescents have been taken to Russia.

    The court further noted that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of the suspects is responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation of the population and illegal transfer of the population from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

    What is the International Criminal Court?

    • The International Criminal Court was created two decades ago as a permanent body under a 1998 treaty to investigate war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity known as the Rome Statute.
    • Previously, the UN Security Council had established ad hoc tribunals to address atrocities in places such as the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
    • The court is based in The Hague, a Dutch city that has long been a centre of international law and justice.
    • Several democracies joined the International Criminal Court, including close US allies, including Britain.
    • But the United States has long kept its distance, fearing that one day the court may seek to prosecute American officials, and Russia is not a member either.
    • The Biden administration is engaged in an internal dispute over whether to provide the court with evidence collected by the US intelligence community about Russian war crimes.
    • According to people familiar with internal deliberations, most of the administration favours transferring evidence, but the Pentagon has baulked because it does not want to set a precedent that could pave the way for eventual lawsuits by the Americans.

    How will it affect Russia?

    • Human rights groups praised the warrant as a significant step toward ending impunity for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, but Putin’s chances of staying in power appear slim as the court tries defendants in absentia. Can’t, and Russia has said it won’t surrender its own officers; also, Russia is not a member of the ICC.
    • Russia’s Foreign Ministry immediately rejected the warrant, noting that it was not a party to the court. Still, the warrant for Putin’s arrest deepens his isolation in the West and could limit his movements abroad. If he travels to a state that is a party to the ICC, that country must arrest him in accordance with its obligations under international law.
    • According to the current law of the land, either Putin is put on trial in The Hague or he is swiftly incarcerated and dies with the gallows over his head.