Arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin: could the Russian leader be brought to justice?

Vladimir Putin – AFP

The International Criminal Court has issued only its third arrest warrant for a sitting head of state She ordered the arrest of Vladimir Putin on Friday.

After a lengthy investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine, the court in The Hague ruled that the Russian president was allegedly responsible for the crime “unlawful deportation” of thousands of children from war-torn country.

Maria Lvova-Belova, a member of the Putin government and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, has also been issued with an arrest warrant for her involvement in the alleged war crime.

The announcement of the International Criminal Court was met with jubilation in Ukraine and praised by Kiev’s western allies.

But What does it really mean for Putin??

What is an ICC Arrest Warrant?

The International Criminal Court in The Hague prosecuting those accused of war crimescrimes against humanity and genocide.

Established in 1998, the court received its powers from 60 countries that had signed the Rome Statute. Since then, the number of members has more than doubled.

The ICC has the power to investigate alleged crimes if the crime was committed in one of its member states or a country that recognizes the court’s powers.

It can issue arrest warrants against anyone legally authorized to have committed a war crime to stand trial for the alleged offence.

What is Vladimir Putin accused of?

The Russian President and his Children’s Rights Commissioner have been charged with alleged responsibility for “the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and unlawful transfer of population (children) from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

The court said there was “reasonable reason to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the alleged crimes because he either committed them directly or ordered others to do so.

The Ukrainian government assumes that up to 16,000 children were forcibly taken to Russia.

Western governments also claimed Moscow deported thousands of children to Russia, often through a complex network of re-education camps.

Russia has never hidden the fact that it has resettled Ukrainian children, but insists the Kremlin-sponsored program is important humanitarian work to protect them from the dangers of war.

Will the Russian President actually be arrested?

It is It is very unlikely that Putin will ever be brought to justice for his alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Anyone accused of a crime within the court’s jurisdiction can be tried, but the ICC does not conduct trials in absentia.

That means the Russian president would either have to be extradited by Russia or arrested outside of his own country.

The ICC does not have its own police forces and therefore relies on member states to arrest suspects and transfer them to The Hague for trial.

The limits of the court are known. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, former President of SudanHe has been charged but never arrested in other countries he has traveled to.

So what does the warrant really mean?

It is mainly symbolic and should give Ukraine a massive morale boost after more than a year of Russian onslaught.

However, an outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court will have some more practical implications for Putin.

There are currently 123 member states that have pledged to enforce the ICC’s orders, including the UK and the entire European Union.

This leaves the Russian president with very few travel options, mostly limited to trips to countries sympathetic to his cause, such as Iran, China and North Korea.

While the legal move obliges countries to arrest Putin and extradite him to The Hague, not all Rome Statute signatories will execute arrest warrants on behalf of the ICC.

Outstanding arrest warrants rarely expire and are often not canceled until death, as with the arrest warrant Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan dictator.

How did the ICC come to its decision to indict Putin?

Prosecutor Karim Khan launched an investigation into possible war crimes being committed in Ukraine last year.

He has personally visited the war-torn country on numerous occasions while a team of investigators worked tirelessly to gather evidence.

Mr Khan previously said the illegal deportation of children is a priority of his investigation.

Evidence was gathered to incriminate and exonerate the alleged crimes.

What does Russia say on the subject?

Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations that its forces committed war crimes during its year-long invasion of Ukraine.

Shortly after the ICC’s announcement, the Kremlin branded the court’s decision as “null and void.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia considered the questions asked “outrageous and unacceptable”.

When asked about Putin’s future trips to ICC countries, he added: “I have nothing to add on the subject. That’s all we want to say.”

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said the announcement “has no meaning for our country, even from a legal point of view.”

“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and has no obligations under it,” she added.

Has the ICC ever convicted anyone of war crimes?

The court made its historic first conviction in March 2012 when Thomas Lubanga convicted of war crimes charges related to the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After two decades, it has heard 31 cases and convicted 10 people.

After a lengthy six-stage process, judges can sentence anyone found guilty to up to 30 years in prison, with exceptional cases including life sentences.

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