ICC's chief prosecutor confident he CAN nail Putin for war crimes

The British lawyer with Putin in his sights: ICC’s chief prosecutor says he is confident he CAN nail the Russian President for war crimes after issuing an arrest warrant

  • ICC announced the arrest warrant on Friday on the accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children
  • The court said it had also issued a warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said there are various options to explore in bringing Russian President Vladimir Putin to justice.

The ICC on Friday announced an arrest warrant for Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

The Hague-based court said it had also issued a warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, 38, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, on similar charges.

Ukraine welcomed the ICC announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky hailing the ‘historic decision’. 

Moscow dismissed the orders as ‘void’. Russia is not a party to the ICC so it was unclear if or how Putin could ever end up in the dock. 

The ICC on Friday announced an arrest warrant for Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Britain’s Karim Khan, visits a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on April 13, 2022

Khan told AFP that Putin was now liable for arrest if he set foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.

He said the arrest warrants were ‘based upon forensic evidence, scrutiny and what’s been said by those two individuals’.

‘The evidence we presented focused on crimes against children. Children are the most vulnerable part of our society,’ said Khan.

If Putin does not appear before the court in The Hague, a ‘confirmation in absence’ is another option. 

Khan told The Sunday Times: ‘We can use this device for people who thumb their nose at justice, or individuals who flee jurisdiction or wantonly refuse to surrender, so there can be judicial proceeding in which witnesses and other evidence can be heard and scrutinised by independent judges and a determination made.’

‘If the person then comes into the hands of the court, you don’t start all over again but go straight to trial,’ he added.

Ukrainian prosecutors have recorded more than 73,000 war crimes, with more than 600 Russians named as suspects. 

Some of those are senior military and political figures, with defence minister Sergei Shoigu among them. 

‘The entire country is a crime scene,’ Khan told the paper. 

He said: ‘Everyone has seen on their TV or read about what’s taken place since February 24 last year and travelling round Ukraine, you see in so many different ways, different crimes which may been committed and we have to investigate — whether torture or sexual violence, executions of soldiers who have laid down arms, attacks on maternity wards and targeting of power stations and civilian buildings. The list goes on.’

On whether it will be possible to hold Putin accountable, he said: ‘It can be done.’ 

A total of 43 countries have referred Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the ICC.

Khan’s office in The Hague does not have the means to prosecute crimes in Ukraine. He said he did not receive any new money for central budget last year or for staff to be in the field.   

A burning residential house is seen after a Russian military strike in Kherson, Ukraine on March 9, 2023 

A giant sign reading ‘Children’ is drawn in front of the National Theatre during a commemorative rally for people killed a year ago inside the building of the Mariupol’s Drama Theatre by a Russian air strike, amid a siege on the city during Russia’s invasion, in Prague, Czech Republic, on March 18, 2023

Justice secretary Dominic Raab will co-host a pledging conference in London with his Dutch counterpart of fellow justice ministers from 40 countries tomorrow for this reason. 

The goal is to generate money and material resources such as extra investigators for the ICC to help Ukraine gain justice.

The ICC’s shock notice came hours after the announcements of a Moscow visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and more fighter jets for Kyiv’s forces.

More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the February 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.

The ICC said judges found there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect Putin’s criminal responsibility and grant Khan’s application for the warrants, which were made back on February 22.

ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said the execution of the warrants ‘depends on international cooperation’.

During a meeting with Putin in mid-February, Lvova-Belova said she adopted a 15-year-old child from the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

‘Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbas – it is a difficult job but we love each other, that is for sure,’ she told Putin.

She added that ‘we evacuated children’s homes into safe areas, arranged rehabilitation and prosthetics for them and provided them with targeted humanitarian assistance’. 

The arrest warrant for Putin, a sitting head of state of a UN Security Council member, is an unprecedented step for the ICC.

Prosecutor Karim Khan and Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova visit the site of a mass grave in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine on April 13

Children remove their shoes at a facility for people with special needs, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Odesa on June 6, 2022

Set up in 2002, the ICC is a court of last resort for the world’s worst crimes, when countries cannot or will not prosecute suspects.

Prosecutor Khan launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine just days after Russia’s invasion.

Khan recently posted pictures from a visit to Ukraine alongside empty cots in an empty children’s care home, and said that investigating alleged child abduction was a ‘priority’.

‘It’s poignant,’ he said. ‘One sees empty cribs and empty beds juxtaposed with paintings by those children on the walls.’

Zelensky, who met Khan on his visit, welcomed the arrest warrants for his nemesis in Moscow.

Zelensky said it was ‘a historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin’. 

Ukraine’s Western allies also hailed the move.

US President Joe Biden said the warrant was ‘justified,’ and ‘makes a very strong point,’ while noting that the United States is not a member of the ICC.

‘There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable,’ a State Department spokesperson said. ‘The ICC Prosecutor is an independent actor.’

Britain called the decision ‘welcome’ and the European Union said it was ‘just the start.’ Human Rights Watch said it was a ‘big day for the many victims’ of Russian forces.

The Kremlin dismissed the warrants.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan stands next to a grave where remains of three bodies were found, in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine on April 13, 2022

A kindergarten employee leads children to a bomb shelter during an air raid, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in central Kyiv, Ukraine on March 7, 2023

‘Russia, just like a number of different countries, does not recognise the jurisdiction of this court and so from a legal point of view, the decisions of this court are void,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev compared the warrants to toilet paper, while foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said they ‘have no meaning’ for Russia. 

Khan, however, said there were ‘so many examples of people that thought they were beyond the reach of the law’.

‘Look at [Slobodan] Milosevic or Charles Taylor or [Radovan] Karadzic or [Ratko] Mladic,’ he said, referring to a series of war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, and former Liberian president Taylor, who have faced justice.

Earlier in the day, Beijing and Moscow announced that Chinese leader and strategic ally Xi Jinping would be in Russia next week to sign accords, ushering in a new era of ties.

The United States has accused China of mulling arms shipments to support Russia’s campaign – claims Beijing has strongly denied.

The arrest warrants come a day after UN investigators said Russia’s forced transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children to areas under its control amounts to a war crime.

The investigators said parents and children had spoken of youngsters being informed by Russian social services that they would be placed in foster families or adopted.

Russia denies allegations of war crimes by its troops. Experts have said it is unlikely it would ever hand over any suspects.

With fighting still raging in Ukraine, Kyiv welcomed the news on Friday that Slovakia will donate 13 MiG-29 warplanes.

Ukraine has long requested fighter jets from Western allies, although it is seeking primarily modern US-made F-16s.

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