The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants of arrest for Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, in relation to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The warrants were issued on 17 March 2023 by Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC and relate to 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 alleged crimes were committed at least from 24 February 2022 in Ukrainian-occupied territory.
In a statement on the issuance of arrest warrants against the two suspects, ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Karim A. A. Khan, said that the evidence collected and analyzed by his Office confirmed that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin and Lvova-Belova bear criminal responsibility for these acts. This includes their having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others, and for their failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or allowed for their commission and who were under their effective authority and control.
Khan stated that 100s of the children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes in Ukraine have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation. He added that the law was changed in the Russian Federation through Presidential decrees issued by President Putin to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, making it easier for them to be adopted by Russian families. The prosecutor also alleged that these acts demonstrate an intention to remove these children from their own country permanently.
“At the time of these deportations, the Ukrainian children were protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Khan said.
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He also underlined that most acts in this pattern of deportations were carried out in the context of the acts of aggression committed by Russian military forces against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which began in 2014.
The Prosecutor emphasized that children must be returned to their families and communities, and those responsible for alleged crimes must be held accountable. “We cannot allow children to be treated as if they are the spoils of war,” he added.
While the ICC has authorized the Registry to publicly disclose the existence of the arrest warrants, the actual text of the warrants remains confidential. This measure is intended to protect the victims and witnesses involved in the ongoing investigation. The decision to make the warrants public is aimed at deterring the commission of further crimes related to the conflict in Ukraine, as it signals that individuals responsible for such acts may be held accountable by the international community. The disclosure of the warrants is likely to have significant diplomatic implications and may further strain the already tense relationship between Russia and Ukraine.
The warrants were issued pursuant to the applications submitted by the Prosecution on 22 February 2023. The conduct addressed in the present situation is allegedly ongoing, and the public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes.
This development is likely to further escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine and could have broader implications for the international community. Nevertheless, Khan has expressed his intention to seek cooperation from the Russian Federation and ensure that the Office fully meets its responsibility pursuant to article 54 of the Rome Statute to investigate incriminating and exonerating circumstances equally.
He also stated that the issuance of the arrest warrants was a first, concrete step with respect to the Situation in Ukraine, and that his office would not hesitate to submit further applications for warrants of arrest when the evidence requires them to do so.
Meanwhile, even with the ICC’s jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by individuals, it remains to be seen how this situation will develop and what actions will be taken in response to the arrest warrants.