The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation over human rights violation crimes which included the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
On the 17th March 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.
The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal seated in the Hague, Netherlands.
In their official press release the ICC said that Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, born on 7 October 1952, President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute).
ICC said the crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian-occupied territory at least from 24 February 2022. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, (i) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (ii) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute).
Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, born on 25 October 1984, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute). The crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory at least from 24 February 2022. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Ms Lvova-Belova bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute).
Pre-Trial Chamber II considered, based on the Prosecution’s applications of 22 February 2023, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.
The Press Release also said that the Chamber considered that the warrants are secret in order to protect victims and witnesses and also to safeguard the investigation. Nevertheless, mindful that the conduct addressed in the present situation is allegedly ongoing, and that the public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes, the Chamber considered that it is in the interests of justice to authorise the Registry to publicly disclose the existence of the warrants, the name of the suspects, the crimes for which the warrants are issued, and the modes of liability as established by the Chamber.
The ICC said that the abovementioned warrants of arrests were issued pursuant to the applications submitted by the Prosecution on 22 February 2023.
Responding to the issued arrest warrants, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International said:
“This announcement is an important signal – both for Ukraine and the rest of the world – that those who are allegedly responsible for crimes under international law in Ukraine will face arrest and trial, no matter how powerful they are.
“President Putin is now officially a wanted man. Following the ICC’s indictment of President Putin and Children’s Commissioner Lvova-Belova for the war crime of forcible transfer of children, the international community must stop at nothing until they are arrested and brought to trial.
“Should President Putin or Ms Lvova-Belova leave Russia, states must deny them safe haven by arresting them immediately and surrendering them to the ICC.
“The arrest warrants are an impressive first step, but they are so far limited to the war crime of unlawful deportation of children. This doesn’t reflect the plethora of war crimes and crimes against humanity for which the Russian leadership is potentially responsible. We expect the ICC and other justice actors to issue further arrest warrants as their investigations into crimes under international law committed in Ukraine begin to show results.”
In November 2022, Amnesty International published a report which documented forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian civilians, including children, by Russian forces and their proxies into Russian or deeper into Russian-occupied Ukraine. The organization found this amounted to war crimes and likely crimes against humanity.
According to a press release from the International Criminal Court, there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that “each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population” under Article 8 (war crimes) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
As there are currently 123 states parties to the Rome Statute, Putin and Lvova-Belova’s arrest warrants are binding in 124 states (123 states parties plus Ukraine, which granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory for crimes committed there since 2014).
REACTIONS TO THE DECLARED ARREST WARRANTS
Reactions to the warrants came within minutes of the announcement, with Kremlin officials instantly dismissing them while the US president, Joe Biden when asked about the ICC’s move, said “well, I think it’s justified”.
Biden also noted that the US is not signed up to the ICC, “but I think it makes a very strong point”. Mr Putin “clearly committed war crimes”, he said.
Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said any of the court’s decisions were “null and void” and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev compared the warrant to toilet paper.
“No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used,” he wrote on Twitter, with a toilet paper emoji.
However Russian opposition leaders welcomed the announcement. Ivan Zhdanov, a close ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, tweeted that it was “a symbolic step” but an important one.
On the side of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he expressed gratitude to Mr Khan and the criminal court for their decision to press charges against what he tagged as “state evil”.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said the decision was “historic for Ukraine”, while the country’s presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, lauded the decision as “only the beginning”.
Report by Obinna Ejianya (9News Nigeria, Melbourne Australia)