The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, over the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia in its ongoing investigation of war crimes committed during the conflict between the two countries. The Ukrainian government has claimed that many missing children have been forcibly taken to Russia, and the Russian government has used their adoption by Russian families as a centerpiece of propaganda. A UN report also stated that Russia had committed war crimes, including “attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children.”
The ICC is an independent court located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute first brought before the United Nations. Most countries on Earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are some notable exceptions, including Russia, as well as the US, Ukraine and China. The court, which has 18 judges serving nine-year terms, tries four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes. The ICC is meant to be a court of “last resort” and is not supposed to replace a country’s justice system.
The Russian government does not deny taking Ukrainian children, and according to Lvova-Belova’s office, Ukrainian kids have been sent to live in institutions and with foster families in 19 different Russian regions, including Novosibirsk, Omsk and Tyumen regions in Siberia and Murmansk in the Arctic. In April 2022, the office of Lvova-Belova said that around 600 children from Ukraine had been placed in orphanages in Kursk and Nizhny Novgorod before being sent to live with families in the Moscow region. As of mid-October, 800 children from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas area were living in the Moscow region, many with families.
While Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, it has previously accepted its jurisdiction. Anyone accused of a crime in the jurisdiction of the court, which includes countries that are members of the ICC, can be tried. The court tries people, not countries, and focuses on those who hold the most responsibility, such as leaders and officials. The ICC does not conduct trials in absentia, so Putin would either have to be handed over by Russia or arrested outside of Russia, which seems unlikely. Therefore, is it unlikely that Putin will actually be arrested or tried in the ICC.