International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin for the War Crime of Unlawful Deportation of Children

By: Daphna Jimenez

April 11, 2023

On March 17th 2023, the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) issued warrants of arrest in the context of the situation in Ukraine for alleged war crimes involving accusations that Russia has forcibly taken Ukrainian children. The ICC arrest warrants were issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

In a press release, the Court said both individuals are “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.”

The investigation found Russian officials deported Ukrainian children to Russia without their parents’ consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda, and gave them Russian families and citizenship. Ukraine government figures put the number of children forcibly taken to Russia at 16,221.

One of the most significant legal issues raised by the arrest warrants is that of jurisdiction. The ICC is a court of last resortthat has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. However, its jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed on the territory of states that have ratified the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute, and therefore, the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine is not automatic. Because Russia does not recognize the court and does not extradite its citizens, it is highly unlikely that Putin or Lvova-Belova will be surrendered to the court’s jurisdiction any time soon.

The issuance of these warrants is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it sends a clear message that the ICC will hold even the most powerful individuals accountable for international crimes. Putin is arguably one of the most powerful people in the world, and the fact that he now faces charges before the ICC underscores the court’s commitment to justice.

Second, the warrants also demonstrate the ICC’s willingness to tackle complex cases that involve state actors. The conflict in Ukraine is a highly sensitive and politically charged issue, and the fact that the ICC has been able to conduct a thorough investigation and issue warrants is a testament to the court’s independence and impartiality.

Third, the warrants are likely to have significant diplomatic repercussions. Russia has long been a vocal critic of the ICC and has refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. The fact that the court has now issued arrest warrants for Putin and other high-ranking officials is likely to further strain Russia’s relationship with the international community.

The issuance of the warrants has also been met with mixed reactions. Some have welcomed the move as a step towards justice for the victims of the conflict in Ukraine, while others have criticized it as politically motivated. Russian officials have dismissed the warrants as a “politically motivated attack” and have vowed to disregard them.

However, it is important to note that the ICC operates independently of political considerations. Its mandate is to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, regardless of their political or military affiliation. The fact that the court has issued warrants for high-ranking Russian officials is therefore an indication of the strength of the evidence against them.

Three days after the issuance of these arrest warrants, Russia’s investigative committee opened a criminal case against the International Criminal Court prosecutor and judges. The committee claims that the ICC’s decision was “unlawful” and that Putin holds immunity to the warrant. The committee referenced a 1973 UN Convention when justifying its case, claiming that heads of state are immune to such actions under this convention.

According to the committee, the criminal case against the ICC is on the basis of them having committed “signs of crimes” under Russian law. This includes knowingly accusing an innocent person of a crime, and deliberately unlawful detentions. The court officials are also suspected of “preparations for an attack on a representative of a foreign state enjoying international protection, in order to complicate international relations.”

Efforts to rescue the children who were deported to Russia has already begun. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has been in contact with a Russian official suspected of war crimes as it works for the return of the Ukrainian children.

The ICC’s issuance of arrest warrants for Russian President Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, is a significant development in the pursuit of justice for the victims of the conflict in Ukraine. Although it is likely that the arrest warrant will not have a direct effect on the President of Russia, it places pressure on their government to cooperate with the return of the children. Evidently, other nations are taking note of the consequences that may arise from war crimes. 

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