Problem for Putin: What consequences does the ICC order to arrest the President of the Russian Federation already have?

What consequences did the sensational decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin have?

The relevant ICC decision was made on March 17. Alongside Putin, a warrant was issued for Maria Lvova-Belova, the authorized representative for children’s rights under the Russian president.

Somewhat unexpected was the fact that these warrants pertained to suspicions of committing only one type of crime — the illegal deportation and transportation of Ukrainian children to the territory of Russia. This ICC decision was primarily driven by the presence of evidence. The removal of Ukrainian children to Russia is an openly acknowledged policy of the Russian Federation, likely being carried out under the guidance of Putin and Lvova-Belova.

This fact allows establishing a connection between the actions of those individuals directly involved in the transportation of children and the responsibility of high-ranking officials such as Putin and Lvova-Belova.

Furthermore, the current Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Khan, aims to prioritize investigations into crimes committed against the most vulnerable segments of the population, including children. The irreparable harm suffered by children due to family separations and forced removal from their native environment is another factor.

It is likely that in the future, the list of crimes suspected of involving Putin will be expanded. This may encompass accusations of systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure objects. The list could also include charges of killings, torture, and unlawful deprivation of liberty — if there is evidence that these were carried out on Putin’s orders or with his knowledge. It is entirely possible that the ICC will open cases involving other political or military leaders of the Russian Federation as well.

Despite the arrest warrants, Russia has not ceased the removal of Ukrainian children, Putin plans a visit to Turkey, and the war continues. Do these ICC-issued arrest warrants then have any real consequences for the individuals under suspicion?

Such arrest warrants, especially concerning Putin, are a much more significant step in the fight for justice restoration than might initially appear.

Immunity and impunity of heads of state

Until recently, there existed an absolute rule in international law stating that incumbent heads of state enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution. This rule still remains unchanged when it comes to criminal prosecution in foreign courts.

However, in international criminal courts, such immunity no longer applies. A significant push for an exception to the immunity rule came from the ICC’s decision in 2019 regarding the arrest of the then-serving President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.

The ICC’s stance that immunity does not shield an incumbent head of state from criminal proceedings in the International Criminal Court was quite controversial at the time.

Nevertheless, it was precisely this decision that allowed the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Putin.

See also: Rashism in action: How Russia is waging war against Ukrainian children

Nowadays, no one takes seriously the assertion that an incumbent head of state has immunity from criminal proceedings in the ICC.

The arrest warrant for Putin is the first compelling confirmation of this in practice and therefore a significant step in combating the impunity of state leaders who, for perhaps centuries, enjoyed absolute immunity.

Isolation on the international stage

States parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC are obligated to arrest and surrender Putin and Lvova-Belova to the ICC if they are found within the territories of these states. Does this truly lead to the isolation of Russia and Putin on the international stage?

Currently, 123 states are parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, meaning that in most countries of the world, arrest awaits Putin and Lvova-Belova.

Among them are not only Europe, which is sympathetic to Ukraine, but also 33 African countries, 28 countries in South America and the Caribbean, and 19 from the Asian-Pacific region. It’s evident that these states do not wish to see Putin on their territories.

It was precisely due to the ICC arrest warrant that even traditionally friendly towards Russia, the Republic of South Africa, avoided his visit during the BRICS summit in August of this year.

By the way, South Africa’s stance towards Putin differs from the situation in 2015 when the country hosted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who already had an ICC arrest warrant at the time. This indicates that at least in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, states are hesitant to openly disregard their international legal obligations.

Destruction of Putin’s narratives

Russian aggression against Ukraine is built on Putin’s narratives of Russia’s supposed rescue mission and the necessity to defend against threats from the “Western world”.

International law debunks these false narratives, as the norms of international law define and show the world that the attack on Ukraine by Russia is a crime.

This also applies to the arrest warrants issued by the ICC, a respected international judicial institution with the participation of the majority of countries in the world. The arrest warrants unquestionably indicate that Putin and Lvova-Belova are not saviors of Ukrainian children but rather suspects in committing the most serious international crimes.

Similar decisions by international courts can become a powerful tool for dismantling the Putin narratives through which Russia justifies its unlawful war in Ukraine both to its own citizens and on the international stage.

Justice and political will

After the issuance of arrest warrants, the natural question arises: when will Putin and Lvova-Belova face trial in The Hague?

The ICC cannot try them in absentia because the court’s statute requires the presence of the accused during trial proceedings. Therefore, a verdict will not be rendered until Putin and Lvova-Belova are handed over to the court. When and whether this will happen depends not on the ICC but on the states involved.

The effectiveness of international law, including the implementation of decisions by international courts and organizations, is closely tied to the willingness of states to uphold their obligations under international law.

The presence of such political will is often driven by the interests of the state but not solely. Most states in the world are interested in adhering to their international legal obligations because this is also a guarantee of respect for their rights and interests by other states.

States condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and call for the respect of the prohibition of the illegal use of force not only because it is a violation of international law. These states also anticipate similar support from others if they themselves become victims of such aggression. Therefore, in ensuring the political will of states to fulfill international legal obligations in the context of Russian aggression, the application of international law without double standards is crucial.

And Ukraine’s refusal to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC serves as an example of such double standards, which could resonate with the future unwillingness of some states to execute ICC decisions regarding Russian suspects.

One should not underestimate the role of citizens and society.

Pressure from civil society, independent institutions, and human rights organizations can compel states to ensure justice for international crimes.

The judicial process against the former president and dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, is one example of this. The relentless fight for justice by human rights advocates and victims eventually pushed Senegal, the country where he resided, to convict and punish Habré for thousands of killings and torture.

Fortunately, we live in a time when institutions like the ICC exist, ready to enact justice against dictators.

Ensuring the effectiveness of ICC decisions is a task for both states and society as a whole.

Originally posted by Gaiane Nuridzhanian on European Pravda. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Victory for Donbas: all about the European Court’s decision which will change the world’s opinion on Russian aggression

Avatar photo


An independent media focused on Ukraine.
Follow us on social media:

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!