ICC Issues Arrest Warrants for Putin & Lvova-Belova, Setting New Era for International Criminal Court
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for their involvement in the war crime of unlawfully deporting and transferring Ukrainian children from occupied parts of the country to the Russian Federation. This is the first time the ICC has issued arrest warrants for individuals since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The ICC stated that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine.” The ICC holds Putin and Lvova-Belova responsible for these acts either by committing them directly, jointly with others and/or through others.
Ukraine has reported the forced deportation of 16,221 Ukrainian children from the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Kherson while under Russian occupation. Meanwhile, Lvova-Belova has admitted to “adopting” a 15-year-old child from Mariupol, a city that suffered much destruction under Russian forces.
Though the ICC has issued arrest warrants, it is highly unlikely that Putin will actually be arrested and appear in court. Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that gave rise to the ICC, and thus cannot turn over Putin or Lvova-Belova for prosecution. This means that the ICC has no police force to enforce its warrants, and countries Putin travels to would need to be willing to arrest him.
The arrest warrants also mark a new era in which the ICC permanently de-normalizes Russia’s relationship with the 123 state parties of the Rome Statute. Legally, these countries are required to arrest Putin if he ever steps foot on their territory, and few heads of state from ICC-respecting countries will want to be seen shaking hands with a sitting president accused of war crimes.
The ICC has indicted 40 individuals apart from Mr Putin, all from African countries, and convicted 10 of them. But, in some cases, the ICC has not been able to successfully prosecute people even when it issues indictments, such as former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
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