The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation of children from Ukraine.
In its first warrant involving Ukraine, the ICC on Friday called for the arrest of Putin on suspicion of illegally deporting children and illegally transferring people from Ukrainian territory to the Russian Federation.
The ICC, which does not have the power to execute its own warrants, has also issued an arrest warrant against Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russian commissioner for children’s rights.
Russia, which is not a party to the court, said the move made no sense. Moscow has repeatedly denied 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 the ICC?
The ICC was created 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.
The tribunal is based in The Hague, the Netherlands, and conducts high-profile investigations of key 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?
Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of being responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation of people, especially children, and their illegal transfer from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC said it sees reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual responsibility for the crimes either by committing them directly, jointly with others and/or through others.
He also stated that he failed to exercise appropriate control over the civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or authorized 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 visit their country. The ICC, however, 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, has dismissed the ICC decision as “null and void”.
“The decisions of the International Criminal Court make no sense 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 has no obligations under it,” she wrote.
What does Ukraine say?
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin welcomed the ICC announcement.
“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leaders and henchmen will be held accountable,” he said. “This is a historic decision for Ukraine and the whole 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.
“According to the statute of the ICC, which has 123 state parties, or 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 his competence,” 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 the Court, which means they have formally triggered our jurisdiction.”
“The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed against anyone on Ukrainian territory from November 2013, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators,” Hofmanski said.
How likely is Putin to end up at the ICC?
The arrest warrants theoretically mark the first step towards an eventual trial – although under current conditions, the capture and indictment of the Russian president is almost inconceivable.
Even if this happens, previous ICC cases have shown that it is difficult to convict the most senior officials. In more than 20 years, the court has handed down only five convictions for serious crimes, and none of them involved a senior official.
But ICC investigations 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 bring such a charge due to legal constraints.