The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes. The charges are focused on the abductions of Ukrainian children. 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."
This is the first time that the global court has issued an arrest warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Rubbishing the charges, Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia does not recognise the ICC.
What are the charges against Putin
The ICC has charged Putin over Russia’s treatment of Ukrainian children under two articles of the Rome Statute, which established the court: unlawful deportations of civilians, and unlawfully moving them from occupied Ukraine into Russia. The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.
Last week Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred to “kidnapping, forced adoption and re-education of Ukrainian children” as “a war crime and a crime against humanity”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a “concerted international effort” to return forcibly deported children and urged Russia to publish information on their whereabouts. Ukraine’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, Daria Gerasymchuk told AFP that Ukraine has identified 43 children’s camps in Russian cities, adding that children “are being moved around all the time”. Gerasymchuk added that 16,000 children have been children deported to Russia since the start of the invasion. Ukraine has managed to bring back 308 children. Not just orphaned children or those in Ukraine's institutional homes, Russia has also forcibly separated children from parents in the border regions, according to reports. These children are then allegedly placed in Russian foster homes and registered as Russian citizens.
Though Russia has publicly acknowledged the programme, it argued that the children were transferred for their own protection. The ICJ refutes this, stating that the children were not moved for safety or medical reasons.
Lvova-Belova responded with sarcasm: "It is great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in war zones, that we take them out, we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people.”
Can Putin be arrested
This is unlikely because the ICC does not have its own police force; it depends on countries to enforce its arrest warrant. Moreover, Russia does not recognise the ICC and is not party to the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. A total of 123 countries are party to the statute. Besides Russia and Ukraine, the United States and China are not members of the 123-member ICC. He could be arrested in any of the countries that have signed the statute, but is unlikely the Russian President will travel to any of these, TIME stated in a report. Moreover, no country is willing to face the dramatic consequences of attempting to arrest Putin.
The ICJ warrant however, further dents Putin's image both globally and at home. "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.
Speaking to TIME, Bill Bowring, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London said this could also make the situation trickier for countries like India that have not condemned Russia for the Ukraine invasion.
The ICJ could file additional charges, including those linked to targeting civilians.