The International Criminal Court said Friday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspicion of war crimes because of his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.
The court said in a statement that Putin “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population [children] and that of unlawful transfer of population [children] from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
It also issued a warrant Friday for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in the office of the president of the Russian Federation, on similar allegations.
The court’s president, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement that while the ICC’s judges have issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to execute them. The court has no police force of its own to execute warrants.
“The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law,” Hofmanski said. “The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation.”
Ukraine also is not a member of the court, but it has granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory, and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has visited four times since opening an investigation a year ago.
The ICC said that its pretrial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.”
The court statement said that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the child abductions “for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others [and] for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts.”
After his most recent visit, in early March, ICC prosecutor Khan said he visited a care home for children barely a mile from the front line in southern Ukraine.
“The drawings pinned on the wall … spoke to a context of love and support that was once there. But this home was empty, a result of alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or their unlawful transfer to other parts of the temporarily occupied territories,” Khan said in a statement. “As I noted to the United Nations Security Council last September, these alleged acts are being investigated by my office as a priority. Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war.”
Although Russia rejected the allegations and warrants of the court as null and void, others said the ICC’s action would have an important impact.
“The ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit, or tolerating, serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague.”
David Crane, who indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor 20 years ago for crimes in Sierra Leone, said dictators and tyrants around the world “are now on notice that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable to include heads of state.”
Taylor was eventually detained and put on trial at a special court in the Netherlands. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment.
“This is an important day for justice and for the citizens of Ukraine,” Crane said in a written comment to the Associated Press on Friday.
On Thursday, a United Nations-backed investigation cited Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, among potential atrocities that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
The sweeping investigation also found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory, including deported Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a “filtration” system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.
A top Pakistani court Friday suspended an arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, giving him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad, the capital, to face charges in a graft case without being detained.
Khan has been holed up at his home in the eastern city of Lahore since Tuesday after failing to appear at an earlier hearing in the case. His supporters hurled stones and clashed with baton-wielding police for two days to protect the former premier from arrest.
Khan, now in the political opposition, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. He is accused of selling state gifts while in office and concealing assets. It’s one in a string of cases that the former cricket star-turned-Islamist politician has been facing since his ouster.
He is now due in court Saturday, after Aamer Farooq, the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, suspended the arrest warrant in the graft case. The court Friday also warned Khan that he could face contempt proceedings if he again fails to show up before the judge.
The 70-year-old opposition leader has also claimed that his removal from power was part of a conspiracy by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Both Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegations.