Can Russian President Vladimir Putin be tried for war crimes by International Criminal Court?

Russia does not deport its citizens and President Putin is not expected to travel to the Russian list of unfriendly countries.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

For his alleged role in the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest order for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In accepting the ICC prosecutor’s request for warrants, a panel of judges concluded there were “sufficient reasons” to presume Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, were responsible for the “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children.

The warrants are the first issued by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed during the Ukraine conflict. It is one of the few instances the court has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state, joining Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.

It is unknown how many youngsters Russian forces have abducted from Ukraine. The Yale Humanitarian Research Lab published a report last month suggesting that at least 6,000 Ukrainian youngsters had been taken to Russian “re-education” camps in the previous year. Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor, said on Friday, “Incidents identified by my office involve the deportation of at least hundreds of children seized from orphanages and children’s care homes.”

According to Russian media, there was no deportation, but there was a relocation (due to hostilities) or the departure of children on holiday with the approval of their parents or relatives. Furthermore, because the ICC can only judge in the presence of the accused, there is a tendency not to disclose verdicts on suspect custody. Everything was done openly this time.

As per the Russian media, the goal of Western politicians is not to arrest the Russian Federation’s President, as a nuclear retaliation could ensue, but to discredit him and send a signal to everyone to fall in line.

What is ICC, and who are the signatories?

The ICC is a permanent organisation that was established to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals who are suspected of committing the gravest international crimes, that includes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression.

The ICC was founded through the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted in 1998 and came into force in 2002. In addition to having jurisdiction over crimes that were committed on the territory of governments that have ratified the Rome Statute, the court in The Hague, which is located in the Netherlands, also has jurisdiction over crimes that were committed by nationals of these states or by individuals who have otherwise committed crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction.

The ICC is an independent and impartial institution (although now some would contest that), and it operates on the principle of complementarity, which means it only intervenes when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute the crimes that fall under its jurisdiction. The ICC is widely regarded as an important institution for promoting accountability for international crimes and advancing international criminal law development.

As of September 2021, 123 countries had signed and approved the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which established the court. The countries that have signed and ratified the Rome Statute include many countries from different regions, such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Europe.

Notably, some countries, including the United States, China, Russia, and India, have not ratified the Rome Statute and are, therefore, not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC. However, even if a country has not ratified the Rome Statute, it may still be subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC if it accepts the court’s jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis or if the United Nations Security Council refers a case to the court.

Is Russia under ICC jurisdiction?

The jurisdiction of the court cannot extend to persons or citizens of states that have not ratified this Rome Statute. Therefore, this warrant has no international legal force concerning any officials and non-officials of the Russian Federation. 

In order to safeguard its citizens, the United States also did not ratify the Rome Statute. It is feasible to hold them accountable for their acts in other countries, particularly their operations in third-world countries like Afghanistan. As a result, Russia is in the same scenario as the United States.

Can the Russian President be arrested?

It is unlikely that most countries that have ratified the statute will arrest President Putin as it could also mean worsening relations with Russia. Interestingly, South Africa and Brazil, the member of BRICS, have ratified the statute, and President Putin is expected to travel to these countries in the future. Several Western European states that have ratified the Rome Statute and Ukraine can theoretically execute the decision of the Hague Court, provided President Putin ends up on the territory of these states. But, the repercussions will outweigh the act of arrest.

Can Russian President Vladimir Putin be tried for war crimes by International Criminal Court?


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