(CN) — The International Criminal Court announced on Friday it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors at The Hague-based court say the Kremlin leader and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, are committing war crimes by abducting Ukrainian children with the aim of raising them as Russian.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility,” the ICC said in a statement.
On Thursday, a United Nations investigation into the conflict in Ukraine concluded that Russia was committing widespread human rights violations, including the forcible deportation of children. The Ukrainian government believes 16,221 Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia since the start of the war.
The Russian authorities are offering a financial reward for families who take in Ukrainian children and have fast-tracked citizenship, making it difficult for their families to get them back.
Lvova-Belova told Putin in an interview last month that she and her husband have adopted a 15-year-old boy from the besieged city of Mariupol. "Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbas,” she told the Russian leader during a meeting.
In response to the warrant, Russia denied the ICC has any authority over its citizens.
"Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a statement on Telegram.
Moscow is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which created the court in 2002. Ukraine has not signed the treaty either, but in 2013 it gave the court jurisdiction over crimes committed in the country.
While the ICC does not have the authority to put the citizens of non-member states on trial for the crime of aggression - leading to calls for the creation of an ad hoc tribunal - judges at the court have previously ruled prosecutors can go after them for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The Office of the Prosecutor currently has investigations opened into Myanmar, Afghanistan and Palestine, which all involve alleged crimes committed on the soil of a member state by citizens of non-member states.
“With these arrest warrants, 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,” Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.
It is unclear how quickly the court will move forward with a trial or if Putin will ever be sent to The Hague. The court does not have its own enforcement mechanism and Russia does not extradite its own citizens.
The ICC has only twice before in its history issued arrest warrants for sitting heads of state. In 2009, then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first head of state to be indicted by the court. He’s accused of orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, but remains at large despite being deposed in 2019.
In June 2011, the court issued an arrest warrant for Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, but he was killed by a rebel group only months later.
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