A historic decision. More than a year after the start of the war in Ukraine, the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his responsibility for war crimes perpetrated in Ukraine since the Russian invasion. “It is quite simply the first time that a head of state of a great power has been concerned. But the question of the execution of this type of arrest warrant is very complex,” explains William Julié, a lawyer specializing in international criminal law. Explanations.
What crimes did Vladimir Putin commit?
The International Criminal Court considers that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Russian president “bears criminal responsibility” for several crimes “committed on occupied Ukrainian territory at least from February 24, 2022”. The ICC highlights in particular the deportation and illegal transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. Wrongdoing in Article 8 of the Rome Statute which entered into force in 2002.
“It is prohibited by international law to transfer people from their places of residence in their country to another. Children benefit from special protection under the Geneva Convention,” said ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański.
The head of the Kremlin is also accused, for the same acts, of not having “exerted appropriate control over the civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts” under article 28, but also of having committed these crimes “directly, jointly with others and/or through other persons”, according to article 25. The institution also indicates that the warrant of arrest was issued “following the requests presented by the prosecution on February 22, 2023”.
What is the Russian president risking?
“An international arrest warrant is a warrant to arrest the individual and bring him before the jurisdiction which requested this arrest warrant. The immunity traditionally accepted by heads of state in their country no longer exists here”, summarizes simply Me William Julié. The Russian president can therefore be arrested, tried before the Court of The Hague and faces 30 years in prison and up to life imprisonment depending on the gravity of the crimes committed because of the violation of article 8. However, the he institution does not have the enforcement forces for its own arrest warrants.
“It is up to the 123 States parties to record the arrest in execution of the Treaty of Rome”, assures Me Julié. But Russia is not a state party to the ICC. “The decisions of the International Criminal Court are meaningless for our country, including from a legal point of view”, wrote on Telegram the spokesperson for Russian diplomacy Maria Zakharova. “By staying in Russia, we can even say that Vladimir Putin does not risk anything as long as he is in power”, adds the lawyer specializing in international law.
On the other hand, the moment Vladimir Putin crosses the doors of a member of the ICC, the country in question must obligatorily arrest the Russian president under the terms of the application of the Treaty of Rome. “There is only one precedent. The former President of Sudan Omar el-Bashir has been under arrest warrant since 2009 and he traveled to South Africa in particular, a Member State, without being arrested, nevertheless tempers the specialist in international law. Some countries are not fulfilling their obligations. »
Is he the only target?
No, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC issued arrest warrants this Friday “against two people in the context of the situation in Ukraine”. They are Vladimir Putin, therefore, and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. This 39-year-old Russian politician is the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Russia.
She is accused, along with the strongman of the Kremlin, of “bearing responsibility for the war crime of illegal deportation of people and the illegal transfer of people from the occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, to the detriment of Ukrainian children. “It is nice that the international community has valued our work to help the children of our country, and that we do not leave them in areas of military operations and take them out (…) There have been sanctions from all countries. But we will continue the work,” promised the commissioner after the international arrest warrant issued against her.
The International Criminal Court nevertheless specifies that, in normal times, the warrants are “secret in order to protect the victims and witnesses as well as the investigation”. However, the ICC considered it “in the interests of justice” to publicly disclose its warrants, the “names of its suspects, and modes of liability as determined by the chamber”.
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