War crimes court issues arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin

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The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for being “allegedly responsible” for the war crime of deporting children from occupied territories of Ukraine to Russia.

Pre-trial judges of The Hague-based International Criminal Court said the Russian president could be held responsible for the forcible transfer of children from Ukrainian institutions to Russia, which has been documented by human rights groups.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” the ICC judges said in a statement on Friday.

They also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, accusing her of the same crime.

These are the first warrants issued by the ICC, whose prosecutor Karim Khan had opened an investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine soon after the start of the invasion last year. The warrant means that Putin could be arrested if he travelled to any country that is part of the ICC.

The Russian foreign ministry downplayed the impact of the warrants. “Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC and has no obligations under it,” said the ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Russia is not co-operating with this body, and possible arrest ‘recipes’, issued by the ICC, are legally null and void for us.”

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev echoed her remarks, writing on Twitter that there was “no need to explain WHERE this paper should be used” and adding a toilet paper emoji.

Russia has denied that its troops have conducted war crimes or atrocities against civilians during the conflict. Instead, Moscow has accused Kyiv of staging evidence and blamed Ukraine’s soldiers for some atrocities.

ICC president Judge Piotr Hofmański said in a video statement: “It is forbidden according to international law for occupying powers to transfer civilians from the territory they live in to other territories, and children are under special protection.”

“The contents of the warrants are secret in order to protect victims,” Hofmański added. “Nevertheless, the judges of the chamber, in this case, decided to make the existence of the warrants public in the interests of justice, and to prevent the commission of future crimes.”

The judges had analysed the evidence and believed “there are credible allegations against these persons”, he said. But the execution of those warrants “depends on international co-operation”, he added.

Headquartered in The Hague, the ICC was established in 1998 to investigate war crimes and genocide. It has jurisdiction in countries that have signed its founding document, the Rome Statute. Russia is not a signatory, and neither are China, India nor the United States.

Ukraine is also not a member of the ICC but has recognised the court’s jurisdiction for events occurring in the country since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

The ICC does not have its own police force, and relies on national authorities to arrest and deliver the suspects for which it has issued warrants. If arrested, a suspect is brought to the ICC detention centre in The Hague, and a trial begins.

The ICC has issued 38 arrest warrants in its three-decade history, leading to 21 detentions. There have been 10 convictions after trial.

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