Arrest warrant for Putin: how the prosecution of war criminals in The Hague works


Arrest warrant for Putin: how the prosecution of war criminals in The Hague works

On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for dictator Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian presidential commissioner for children.

Russia immediately denied the accusations, and a foreign ministry spokesman said the trial “has no meaning” in Russia. However, the Russians themselves can still extradite the dictator if they so desire.

How the International Criminal Court works

The International Criminal Court, located in The Hague (Netherlands) and created under a treaty called the Rome Statute, operates independently of the UN and should not be confused with the International Court of Justice, which also sits in The Hague.

Most countries on Earth, namely 123, are members of the Rome Charter, however, there are some notable exceptions, such as the USA, Russia or even Ukraine.

Anyone accused of a crime within the jurisdiction of a court in signatory countries can be tried. However, the court judges people, not countries, and concentrates on those who bear the greatest responsibility: leaders and officials. And although Ukraine is not a member of the court, it has previously recognized its jurisdiction. Thus, Putin can be accused by the court of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Reference: The ISS considers four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, aggression and war crimes.

How the ISS initiates a case and conducts an investigation

Litigation can begin in one of two ways: either the national government or the UN Security Council can refer cases for investigation, although the court operates independently of the organization.

Since for some reason Russia is still a member of the UN Security Council, it has the right to veto the actions of the Council. So lawsuits against the aggressor country were filed by 39 national governments , most of which are European.

It should be noted that if justice as a whole moves slowly, then international justice is even slower. The investigation at the ISS has been going on for many years and so far there have been only a few convictions.

The preliminary investigation of the hostilities in the East of Ukraine lasted more than 6 years – from April 2014 to December 2020. Then the prosecutor said that there is evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The next steps have slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of resources of the court, which is conducting numerous investigations.

Is there a chance that Putin will visit the courtroom

The ISS does not conduct trials in absentia. There are two options for Putin's detention: either he will be extradited by Russia, or he will be arrested outside of Russia. This seems unlikely as long as Putin is in power.

Yes, the likelihood that the Russian president will physically see the inside of the courtroom while he remains on the “throne” seems slim. However, NYU law professor and co-editor of the Just Security online forum Ryan Goodman stressed that the international outcry against the dictator is unique, “and it could give the court an opportunity to act differently.”

It is difficult to judge the ISS investigation based on past practice. In the situation with Ukraine, the prosecutor relies on emergency support from dozens of countries. Which I expect will be followed by an infusion of resources,” Goodman said.

He added that the ISS investigation could affect the diplomatic space for negotiations and weaken Putin's power within Russia itself.

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