The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for the war crime of illegally deporting children from Ukraine.
In its first order involving Ukraine, the ICC on Friday called for Putin’s arrest on suspicion of illegally deporting children and illegally transferring people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC, which has no power to enforce its own orders, also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.
Russia, which is not a party to the court, said the move was pointless. Moscow has repeatedly rejected accusations that its forces have committed atrocities since it launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February last year.
Here’s everything you need to know about the case:
What is ICC?
The ICC was established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression when member states are unwilling or unable to do so on their own.
The tribunal is based in The Hague, Netherlands, and conducts high-profile investigations against prominent suspects.
It can prosecute crimes committed by nationals of Member States or on the territory of Member States by other actors. It has 123 member countries. Its budget for 2023 is around 170 million euros ($180 million).
What crime is Putin accused of?
Both Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of responsibility for the war crime of illegal deportation of people, particularly children, and their illegal transfer from occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC said it saw reasonable grounds to believe that Putin was personally responsible for the crimes, having committed them directly, jointly with others and/or through others.
It is further said that he did not exercise proper control over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or permitted them to be committed and who were under his effective authority and control.
The arrest warrant obliges member states to arrest Putin or Lvova-Belova if they travel to their country. However, the ICC does not have its own police force or other means of making arrests.
How did Russia react?
Russia, which has denied committing atrocities since it invaded Ukraine, dismissed the ICC’s move as “invalid”.
“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no significance for our country, including from a legal point of view,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel.
“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” she wrote.
What does Ukraine say?
The Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine Andriy Kostin welcomed the ICC’s announcement.
“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and its leadership and supporters will be held accountable,” he said. “This is a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire system of international law.
Does the ICC have jurisdiction in Ukraine?
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski told Al Jazeera it was “totally irrelevant” that Russia had not ratified the Rome Statute.
“Under the ICC’s statute, which includes 123 countries, two-thirds of the entire international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a state party or a country that has accepted its jurisdiction,” he said. “Ukraine has accepted the ICC twice – in 2014 and then in 2015.”
Hofmansky said 43 countries have taken “the situation in Ukraine to the court, which means they have officially triggered our jurisdiction.”
“The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed against anyone on the territory of Ukraine from November 2013 onwards, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators,” Hofmansky said.
How likely is Putin to end up at the ICC?
The arrest warrants theoretically mark the first step toward a possible trial — although under current conditions, the capture and indictment of Russia’s president is almost unthinkable.
Even if that happens, previous ICC cases have shown that it is difficult to convict the highest-ranking officials. In more than 20 years, the court has handed down only five convictions for major crimes, and none was for a senior official.
But ICC investigations against international figures are not the only option. War crimes can also be prosecuted in Ukraine’s own courts, and a growing number of countries are conducting their own investigations.
There are also plans to create a new tribunal to prosecute the Russian invasion as a crime of aggression. The ICC cannot bring such a charge due to legal restrictions.