The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Friday (March 17) it had issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children since the start of the Russian invasion.
An arrest warrant has also been issued against Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Russia. “Children cannot be treated as spoils of war,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said recently.
La Croix: Does such a decision surprise you?
Pierre Hazan : In this case, the International Criminal Court is extraordinarily quick to indict a sitting head of state. There have been rare precedents: the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in March 2009 and that of Muammar Gaddafi on June 27, 2011.
How is this possible since neither Russia nor Libya have ratified the Rome Statute that founded the ICC?
P. H. : The court is in fact competent only for the States parties to the international treaty. But it can also be seized when the UN Security Council refers a situation. This was the case with the situations in Sudan and Libya which led to the indictment of heads of state: from then on the war waged in Darfur for the first and that in Libya for the second were no longer considered as conflicts internal to countries.
Regarding the war in Ukraine, neither Russia nor Ukraine have ratified the statutes of the International Criminal Court, however Ukraine has recognized the jurisdiction of the ICC since 2014.
Why then has the ICC not done the same for other conflicts, notably the war in Syria?
P. H. : During the referral to the court by the UN Security Council in 2011 concerning Libya, Russia then led by President Dmitry Medvedev abstained, as did China. Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister, strongly criticized this abstention at the time.
Subsequently, Vladimir Putin’s Russia opposed the ICC frontally, which it considers an instrument of foreign interference and systematically opposed any referral to the court by the Security Council. The war in Syria therefore remained an internal matter outside the court’s jurisdiction.
The ICC is often accused of being slow. How to explain his speed this time?
P. H. : There were discussions in recent weeks about the possible creation of a special court on the crime of aggression, in order to prosecute the head of the Kremlin, arguing precisely for the slowness of the ICC and the fact that it has not warrant to prosecute for a crime of aggression. We can think that Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the ICC, rushed things to short-circuit this project, so that the ICC remains master of the game, arguing the risk of fragmentation of international justice if we were to multiply the courts specials.
What are the consequences of this arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin?
P. H. : The ICC has the power to lift the diplomatic immunity of a sitting president, but it has no international police. In pure theory, Vladimir Putin could be arrested if he traveled to one of the approximately 130 countries that have ratified the treaty. It almost happened to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, under an international arrest warrant, when he visited South Africa in 2015. But Pretoria was quick to get him out of the country quickly. country.
There is no doubt that nobody will arrest Vladimir Putin despite the scale of the crimes with which he is accused. But by intervening in times of war, international criminal justice sets a standard while playing a political game. The fundamental question is whether this can have any virtue in preventing or deterring other crimes. Or if, conversely, failing to calm things down, making Putin an international pariah can further push him in his headlong rush.
Finally, one wonders to what extent the United States welcomes such an indictment if by chance it fell to them to carry out an operation like that of 2003 in Iraq. For the record, one of Karim Khan’s first decisions as prosecutor was to “deprioritize” the pre-investigation opened on Afghanistan during the American presence in the country.
Does the indictment of the Russian president jeopardize the chances of a peace settlement?
P. H. : This complicates a hypothetical peace process. The statutes of the ICC, however, provide in article 16 that the Security Council can suspend any judicial process for a renewable year, but “the carrot” is small. Article 53(c) allows the prosecutor not to prosecute an accused if he thinks that, “in the interest of the victims”, the judicial process should be stopped.
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