What does the first international arrest warrant against Putin mean?

Vladimir Putin Crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has today issued the first two arrest warrants for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, one against Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children, an unprecedented step, being the first time that this court asks to detain a head of state still in the exercise of his position.

It is also the first time in its history that the ICC has called for the arrest of the president of one of the five veto powers in the United Nations Security Council.

It is a very important step for the ICC: to persecute an acting head of state while carrying out a war full of systematic war crimes”, admits Marieke De Hoon, an expert in International Law.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin as “suspected” of the illegal deportation of children and their transfer from occupied areas in Ukraine to Russia, which translates into a war crime under the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the court.

His individual responsibility stems from his role as Head of State, for “having committed the acts directly, together with others or through others” or for “failing to exercise adequate control over his civilian or military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed their commission, and that they were under their control and effective authority”, according to the Court.

Russia is not a member of the court because it has not ratified the Rome Statute. He signed it in 2000, but withdrew the signature in 2016 after annexing Crimea.

Ukraine has not ratified the treaty either but has recognized the jurisdiction of this Court to investigate war crimes in the country. This allows the ICC to prosecute Russian citizens, including its president, for crimes committed in Ukraine.

Putin is not immune from the ICC either because it does not recognize the immunity of heads of state (the only court that does not). The choice of cases is also very interesting: among the many war crimes that are being committed, the prosecutor (Karim Khan) prioritizes the large-scale kidnapping of children,” added the expert consulted by the EFE news agency.

The second arrest warrant has been against the Russian politician Maria Lvova-Belova, presidential commissioner for the Rights of the Child in Russia, with the same accusation.

The crimes were allegedly committed from February 24, 2022, the date of the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

De Hoon believes this case is “relatively easy” because Putin and Lvova-Belova are “publicly speaking of the successes of their campaign to ‘rescue’ Ukrainian children and put them up for adoption in Russian families,” which legally is forced deportation and translates into a war crime.

“It is not that they do not deny what they are doing, it is that they argue that it is justified, something with which I doubt that the ICC judges will agree,” says the lawyer.

The main challenge facing the ICC, in this case, is the arrest of the suspects because this court cannot hold trials in absentia. The case will be paralyzed until those arrested are in The Hague prison and can attend the sessions, hear the accusations and defend themselves.

For now, with this warrant already issued, Putin and Lvova-Belova risk arrest if they travel to one of the ICC’s 123 member countries because states that sign their treaty are required to cooperate with the arrest of suspects.

“The ICC prosecutor hopes that this is already an important signal for all those who participate in this war,” believes De Hoon, who recalls that it is “a myth” that the ICC cannot prosecute Putin because Russia is not a member state. .

With this step, the ICC sends a message to Moscow and to the defenders of the creation of a special court to judge Russian aggression, something with which the prosecutor Karim Khan has never agreed.

“He tells them: yes, the ICC can issue arrest warrants for anyone who commits international crimes in the territory where it has its reach. In this case: Ukraine. And he can prosecute anyone, regardless of his political position, ”detailed De Hoon.

The NGO Human Right Watch celebrated these arrest warrants because they “make Putin a wanted man” and are “a first step towards ending the impunity that has emboldened the perpetrators” of the war in Ukraine.

The ICC is expected to issue a second batch of arrest warrants soon for suspects in attacks on civilian infrastructure remote from military targets in Ukraine.