Global arrest warrants are not grand jokes. However, an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is turning into one. The criminal court issued an arrest warrant for the 70-year-old Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, on 17 March. In a first, the arrest warrant is against the head of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The allegation: Russia has been abducting, transferring and deporting – forcibly and illegally – children from occupied areas in Ukraine since 24 February 2022, the date of Russia’s illegal aggression on Ukraine. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64992727
Video Courtesy: YouTube/BBC
Motive of the Crime Diabolical
Ukraine has evidence of these war crimes. Its human-rights chief says Russia has deported to date 16,226 children, of which 308 were brought back. Forcible deportation is a war crime and the offence is right within ICC’s jurisdiction. Russia is not denying the deportation. Though it admits to smuggling in Ukrainian children, it argues that the abduction was a ‘humanitarian’ act, aimed at rescuing Ukrainian children from killing war zones. The argument is phoney at best.
Unmoved, the court has issued arrest warrants for two – Mr Putin and the 38-year-old Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights. Both are accused of illegally deporting Ukrainian children and forcing them melt into Russian families. The Russian motive is diabolical: to erase the Ukrainian identity of the deported children. The court has publicised the warrants to promote awareness of war crimes. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/17/vladimir- putin-arrest-warrant-ukraine-war-crimes
Limited Criminal Capabilities
Nevertheless, the warrants are a burlesque. Both the accused, Mr Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova will most probably be let off, without even standing for trial. With reason. The two-decades-old court’s mandate is to probe war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Sadly, however, the court is notorious for its sluggish proceedings. Cases drag on for years, without showing the slightest sign of reaching finality.
This will be true in Mr Putin’s and Ms Lvova-Belova’s cases as well. The trio of blue-robed judges in ICC may find the two guilty and slap a prison sentence. But, they will be let off before their sentences begin. ICC’s annals are replete with such precedents. Why is ICC impotent? The court’s inability to punish springs from its limited global criminal justice capabilities. https://academic.oup.com/jicj/article/18/1/107/5841735
Fragile Justice System
This limitation prevents the court from extending its justice system to heads of nations that are ‘declared’ nuclear powers. A few war generals may be prosecuted here and punished there, but the prime culprits, the heads of rogue nations, are routinely let off the hook. Time and again, the ICC has proved it is a just a paper tiger. By the virtue of being one, the court offers enormous immunity to errant leaders.
Inevitably, the court’s fragile justice system emboldens the likes of Mr Putin to unleash atrocities on unsuspecting nations, with no compunction whatsoever. Worse, international courts are guided by global treaties and norms, unlike domestic courts which work as per adopted laws. ICC’s operations are thus determined by global scholars, in contrast to national courts where dispensation of justice progresses along long-established legal codes. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/16/icc-starts-next- chapter-colombia
No Powers to Arrest
This hampers delivery of justice in the ICC. Against this ground reality, sure, Mr Putin will not face trial. Moreover, in the ICC, nations can opt in or opt out of their own volition. Usually, opting nations do so without the fear of being monitored by an external policing and enforcement agency like the Interpol. What makes the issue more serious is the fact that Russia is not an ICC signatory.
Plus, ICC has no powers to arrest suspected criminals and its jurisdiction is limited to its member countries. Bad luck, Russia is not a member country. However, optimists are taking a positive view of the arrest warrant issued to the Russian duo. The optimists argue that the UN can set up ad hoc tribunals, as it did in the Rwandan genocide case, where it convicted 61 men, and in the infamous Kosovo armed conflicts case in former Yugoslavia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Criminal_Tribunal_for_Rwanda
Creating an Ad Hoc Tribunal
Both these cases were in the Nineties. Carrying the second case to its logical end, the ICC sent the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to a Dutch detention centre, where he eventually died. The moot question now however is this: will the UN neutralise ICC’s limitation and set up an ad hoc tribunal for trying Mr Putin? While there is no clear answer to this poser, Ukraine continues to demand an ad hoc tribunal.
A persistent Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, is toying with the idea of creation of such a tribunal in The Hague, distinctly separate from the ICC. He is sure this ad hoc tribunal would facilitate swift prosecution of Mr Putin. Ukraine wants to hit Russia where it hurts the most. However, this attempt to institute a tribunal will come a cropper. For the simple reason it may discredit future moves of ICC to prosecute aggressions. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/03/17/world/russia- ukraine-putin-news
Prosecutions only in Two Trials
Mr Zelensky may be in for a major disappointment for other reasons as well. Considering the spineless UN’s propensity to wilt under duress from veto-exercising powers, the world body may again buckle under. Plus, proving the crimes of Russian commanders in Ukraine will not be so easy. This is why Ukraine needs to play up the charges of Russia killing civilians and destroying their properties.
Yet, pulling Mr Putin into prison will remain a far-fetched idea. History backs this theory. In the past, just in two cases, the Nuremberg and the Tokyo trials, prosecutions have happened. This was possible primarily because the nations involved in these two cases were America and its allies, and they had invited the prosecutions. Why will the United States, which is not directly involved in the Ukraine War, do so now? https://nyujilp.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/01/NYI104.pdf
Eliminating Sham ICC Trials
By all means, America will not invite the prosecution. Plus, the UN General Assembly too will not call for vote on a resolution inviting prosecution. Given Russia’s superpower status, its veto clout in the Security Council and the support of its many muscled allies like China, any move to invite prosecution is certain to be stalled. Inviting prosecution is a futile exercise that will stretch international criminal laws to their ludicrous limits, making them ultimately laughable.
Anyway, winning a vote on a United Nations resolution is never guaranteed. As the Punish-Putin debate rages on, the ICC has the option to prosecute the Russian president through the Ukrainian legal system. Thus, the ICC can arraign him before Ukrainian courts, which are backed by global jurists and headed by international judges. Doing so will eliminate the possibility of a sham trial in the ICC, where prosecutions will not happen. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60690688
Leading to Historic Accountability
Largely, an ICC trial will be a travesty of justice. Plus, the ICC cannot try Mr Putin in absentia. What is the way out then? Right-minded nations should ignore ICC’s arrest warrant and aid Ukraine wholeheartedly by sending the Eastern European state sophisticated weapons, advanced arms and ammunition. They should come together to assure Mr Zelensky their support and make Mr Putin realise wanton wars are futile. https://poliphoon.com/ukraine-is-fighting-two-wars-now/
Sure, Mr Zelensky would welcome such an approach. He is already elated over Mr Putin’s ICC arrest warrant. He crowed: “This warrant should lead to historic accountability. Deportations constituted a policy of state evil which starts precisely with the top official of this state.” These incisive and indicting words come in the wake of Mr Zelensky’s dogged determination to make Mr Putin accountable for the extensive loss of lives and property in war-ravged Ukraine. https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/speeches
Striking Fear into the Hearts
Mr Zelensky’s elation is understandable. He believes Mr Putin’s arrest warrant can create a climate of fear in Russia. He is dead wrong. Russia is already denigrating the ICC warrant as “outrageous and unacceptable.” Mr Putin has dismissed the court’s decisions and actions as “null and void.” The autocrat is now insisting Russia is not a member of the ICC and thus he is beyond the criminal court.
Yet, at times, warrants can strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Mr Putin, Ukraine’s principal aggressor, is a war criminal. Though Mr Putin is unlikely to be tried in ICC, his arrest warrant is an alert to the possibility of his future arrest during his travel to any of the 123 ICC member states. The ICC family includes the whole of Europe and many in Africa and Latin America, while it excludes the United States, China, Syria, India, Iran and other Russian allies. https://asp.icc- cpi.int/states parties
Possibility of Mr Putin’s arrest will disable him from travelling internationally. His global movements will be hampered and curtailed. This is one major spin-off from the ICC warrant. Mr Putin is the third serving president, after Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, to be issued an arrest warrant by the ICC. But, Mr Putin is the most accomplished offender among them and is sure to evade a gruelling prison term. https://www.icc- cpi.int/news/icc-issues-warrant-arrest-omar-al-bashir-president- sudan
Mr Putin will ensure he does not undertake travel to any of the 123 ICC member states. When Russia does not recognise ICC’s jurisdiction and when Mr Putin dismisses the ICC arrest warrant as an inert symbolism, what use is an ICC warrant? Being an officially-wanted individual, Mr Putin may get isolated from the West, at the most. In a worse scenario, he may end up becoming a global pariah. Mr Putin will be the last person to agonise over such a possibility.