The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for the war crime of illegal deportation of children from Ukraine.
In its first arrest warrant against Ukraine, the ICC on Friday called for the arrest of Putin on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and illegal transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC, which has no power to enforce its own orders, has also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner.
Russia, which is not a party to the court, said the move was futile. Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations that its troops 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 the 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 themselves.
Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the tribunal conducts high-profile investigations into high-profile 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 states. The budget for 2023 is approximately 170 million euros.
What crime is Putin accused of?
Both Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of being responsible for the war crime of the unlawful deportation of people, especially children, and their unlawful transfer from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC said it sees reasonable grounds to believe that Putin is individually responsible for the crimes, either by committing them directly, jointly and/or through others.
It also said that he did not exercise proper control over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or allowed their commission and who were under his effective authority and control.
The arrest warrant obliges member states to arrest Putin or Lvova-Belova if they were to travel to their country. However, the ICC does not have its own police force or other means of enforcing arrests.
How does Russia react?
Russia, which denies committing atrocities since invading Ukraine, dismissed the ICC’s move as “zero and worthless”.
“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, not even 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?
Ukrainian Attorney General Andriy Kostin welcomed the ICC’s announcement.
“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leaders and accomplices 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 that it is “completely irrelevant” that Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute.
“Under the ICC statute, which has 123 States Parties, two-thirds of the entire international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a State Party or a State that has accepted its jurisdiction,” he said. “Ukraine has accepted the ICC twice – in 2014 and then in 2015.”
Hofmanski said 43 states had “referred the situation in Ukraine to court, meaning they have formally activated our jurisdiction.”
“The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed against anyone on the territory of Ukraine from November 2013, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators,” Hofmanski said.
How likely is it that Putin will end up with the ICC?
The arrest warrants are, in theory, the first step towards a final trial – although under the current circumstances, the arrest and arraignment of the Russian president is almost unthinkable.
Even if that were to happen, previous ICC cases have shown that it is difficult to convict the highest officials. In more than 20 years, the court has handed down only five convictions for serious crimes, none of which were for a top official.
But the ICC studies of 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 file such a suit due to legal restrictions.