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The ICC’s Historic Arrest Warrant: Holding War Criminals Accountable

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken a historic step by issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of war crimes.[0] Putin is accused of deporting Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia, a crime against humanity which the Hague tribunal has deemed a war crime.[1]

The ICC, established in 2002 and supported by 123 countries including members of the European Union, Latin, and South American states, has issued arrest warrants for 40 people from African countries, 10 of whom have been convicted and four of whom have been acquitted.[2]

The arrest warrant issued on March 17, 2023, named Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, for their involvement in the alleged abduction and deportation of at least 6,000 Ukrainian children from their homes in occupied territories.[3] The ICC accused the pair of being directly involved in the crime of sending children to reeducation camps and facilities.

The Russian Federation is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the agreement that led to the formation of the International Criminal Court, and is unlikely to surrender either President Putin or Lvova-Belova for trial.[4] The ICC has no police force of its own or other ways to enforce arrests, and so it relies on countries to enforce its arrest warrants.[5]

The ICC’s indictment permanently de-normalizes Russia’s relationship with all 123 state parties of the Rome Statute.[6] Legally, each of the states are required to arrest Putin if he ever steps foot on their territory, and politically, few heads of state from ICC-respecting countries will want to be seen shaking hands with the only sitting president other than Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir to be indicted by the Hague.[6]

The indictment has also caught the attention of Chinese President, Xi Jinping, who plans to visit Russia next week and meet with Putin in what appears to be a show of support for him.[7] China has declined to criticize Russia and has criticized Western sanctions.[7]

The ICC has been unable to successfully prosecute people even when it issues indictments.[2] For example, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir traveled internationally numerous times in spite of an ICC arrest warrant for his involvement in the Darfur genocide.[8]

The ICC’s announcement is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity for war crimes, and a reminder that those responsible for war crimes will be held accountable, no matter how powerful they are.

0. “International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin for War Crimes” Bloomberg, 18 Mar. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-17/international-court-issues-warrant-for-putin-for-war-crime

1. “International war crime authorities want to arrest Putin” Quartz, 17 Mar. 2023, https://qz.com/icc-putin-ukraine-russia-hague-war-crime-1850238534

2. “Prosecuting Putin for abducting Ukrainian children will require a high bar of evidence – and won't guarantee the children can come back home” The Conversation Indonesia, 16 Mar. 2023, https://theconversation.com/prosecuting-putin-for-abducting-ukrainian-children-will-require-a-high-bar-of-evidence-and-wont-guarantee-the-children-can-come-back-home-201833

3. “Putin’s alleged war crimes: who are the Ukrainian children being taken by Russia?” The Guardian, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/17/vladimir-putin-war-crimes-icc-arrest-warrant-ukraine-children

4. “Vladimir Putin Is Officially A Wanted Man” BuzzFeed News, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/davidmack/icc-vladimir-putin-arrest-warrant-war-crimes

5. “All you need to know about the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin” Al Jazeera English, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/17/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-iccs-arrest-warrant-for-putin

6. “ICC Arrest Warrant Turns Putin into a Global Outlaw” Center for European Policy Analysis, 17 Mar. 2023, https://cepa.org/article/putin-becomes-a-global-outlaw

7. “ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin, March Madness gets crazy: 5 Things Podcast” USA TODAY, 18 Mar. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2023/03/18/icc-issues-arrest-warrant-putin-march-madness-gets-crazy-5-things-podcast/11498320002/

8. “Will Vladimir Putin Actually Be Arrested for ICC Warrant?” TIME, 17 Mar. 2023, https://time.com/6264280/vladimir-putin-icc-warrant-arrest/

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