The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for the war crime of illegal deportation of children from Ukraine.
In its first warrant involving Ukraine, the ICC on Friday called for Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
The ICC, which has no powers to enforce its own warrants, also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children’s rights.
Russia, which is not a party to the court, said the move was meaningless. Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities since it launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February last year.
Here is everything you need to know about the case:
What is the ICC?
The ICC was established 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, Netherlands, and leads high-profile investigations into prominent 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 about 170 million euros ($180m).
What crime is Putin accused of?
Both Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of being responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of people, in particular children, and their unlawful 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.
It also said he failed to exercise proper control over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or allowed for 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 travel to their country. The ICC, however, has no police force of its own or other ways to enforce arrests.
How is Russia reacting?
Russia, which denies committing atrocities since it invaded Ukraine, rejected the ICC’s move as “null and void”.
“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel.
“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” she wrote.
What does Ukraine say?
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin hailed the announcement by the ICC.
“The world received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and its leadership and henchmen will be held accountable,” he said. “This is a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire 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 had not ratified the Rome Statute.
“According to the ICC statute, which has 123 state parties, two-thirds of the whole international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of a state party or a state which has accepted its jurisdiction,” 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 on anyone on the territory of Ukraine from November 2013 onwards regardless of nationality of the alleged perpetrators,” Hofmanski said.
How likely is it that Putin will end up at the ICC?
The arrest warrants theoretically mark the first step towards an eventual trial – although under current conditions, the capture and arraignment of Russia’s president is almost inconceivable.
Even if that did happen, previous ICC cases have shown it is hard to convict the most senior officials. In more than 20 years, the court has only issued five convictions for core crimes, and none was for a top official.
But the ICC investigations into 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.