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War Crimes: ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin, But Will He Face Trial?

Yesterday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of war crimes in Ukraine.[0] This marks the first arrest warrant issued by the court since Russia invaded Ukraine back in February 2022.[1] The charges are in relation to Russia’s alleged unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.[2] Putin and an official in his office, Maria Lvova-Belova, are accused of bearing “individual criminal responsibility” for the crime of unlawfully deporting population, and unlawfully transferring population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Reports first emerged last spring that Ukrainian children in occupied territories were being taken to Russia, and even being adopted by Russian families.[1] Russia has stated that their actions are for the purpose of a humanitarian mission, with the goal of rescuing Ukrainian children from the war.[3] [3] At least 6,000 Ukrainian children in the occupied territories have attended Russian state-funded summer camps, and several hundred of them have not been returned to their families.[4]

Russia is not a participant of the Rome Statute, to which 123 states have signed on and ratified, and Putin is unlikely to visit a country that has accepted the Statute in the foreseeable future. There is no certainty that he would be apprehended, even if he went overseas, since the countries he visited would have to be inclined to apprehend him.[5]

The ICC’s warrant may limit international travel for Putin at risk of arrest, as member states are obliged to arrest him or Lvova-Belova if they were to travel to their country.[6] But the arrest warrants are unlikely to lead to any tangible action because the ICC has no police force of its own or other ways to enforce arrests.[7] The court also doesn’t conduct trials in absentia, without the accused present.[5]

Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Russia and meet with President Putin, seemingly expressing his endorsement of Putin.[8] China has refused to criticize Russia and has expressed disapproval of Western sanctions.[2]

The ICC’s indictment permanently de-normalizes Russia’s relationship with all 123 state parties of the Rome Statute, as they are required to arrest Putin if he ever steps foot on their territory.[9] It is also unlikely that Putin will ever face trial because Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute.

0. “Putin's Allies' Fears Come True” Newsweek, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/putins-allies-fears-come-true-1788649

1. “Vladimir Putin Is Officially A Wanted Man” BuzzFeed News, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/davidmack/icc-vladimir-putin-arrest-warrant-war-crimes

2. “ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin, March Madness gets crazy: 5 Things Podcast” USA TODAY, 18 Mar. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2023/03/18/icc-issues-arrest-warrant-putin-march-madness-gets-crazy-5-things-podcast/11498320002/

3. “Putin’s alleged war crimes: who are the Ukrainian children being taken by Russia?” The Guardian, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/17/vladimir-putin-war-crimes-icc-arrest-warrant-ukraine-children

4. “Prosecuting Putin for abducting Ukrainian children will require a high bar of evidence – and won't guarantee the children can come back home” The Conversation Indonesia, 16 Mar. 2023, https://theconversation.com/prosecuting-putin-for-abducting-ukrainian-children-will-require-a-high-bar-of-evidence-and-wont-guarantee-the-children-can-come-back-home-201833

5. “Will Vladimir Putin Actually Be Arrested for ICC Warrant?” TIME, 17 Mar. 2023, https://time.com/6264280/vladimir-putin-icc-warrant-arrest/

6. “International war crime authorities want to arrest Putin” Quartz, 17 Mar. 2023, https://qz.com/icc-putin-ukraine-russia-hague-war-crime-1850238534

7. “All you need to know about the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin” Al Jazeera English, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/17/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-iccs-arrest-warrant-for-putin

8. “Friday’s Mini-Report, 3.17.23” MSNBC, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/fridays-mini-report-31723-rcna75547

9. “ICC Arrest Warrant Turns Putin into a Global Outlaw” Center for European Policy Analysis, 17 Mar. 2023, https://cepa.org/article/putin-becomes-a-global-outlaw

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