Russian President Vladimir Putin at a public event in Moscow on March 15. /AFP
After the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin on Friday for war crimes in Ukraine, the question arises whether the Russian president could one day be in the docks of The Hague.
– What is the procedure? –
The 123 countries that signed the Rome Statute are obliged to enforce arrest warrants against President Putin and the Russian presidential commissioner Maria Libova Belova, who is also subject to the warrant. The arrest occurred when one of the two had traveled to one of those countries.
“That’s true,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP when asked if Putin could be arrested.
However, courts established after the Rome Statute do not have their own police force. According to Polish jurist Piotr Hoffmanski, president of the ICC, the execution of the mandate “depends on international cooperation.”
Columbia Law School professor Matthew Waxman said it was a “very important step for the ICC, but it’s unlikely Putin will ever be arrested.”
As an example, former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir traveled to several states in Africa despite the fact that the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him.
What are the obstacles?
The key issue is that neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC. Ukraine has accepted her CPI jurisdiction in the current situation, thus allowing international courts to prosecute Putin alone. Russia has already rejected the arrest warrant and has said it will not cooperate.
A spokesman for Russian President Dmitry Peskov said: “Russia, like many countries, does not recognize the jurisdiction of its courts, so from a legal point of view the court’s decision is invalid.” .
Cecily Rose, an associate professor of international law at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said Mr Putin was unlikely to go to court “unless there is a change of government in Russia”.
Is there a precedent?
Khan said several political and military leaders have been tried for war crimes.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor said, “There are many examples of people who thought they were above the law and went to court.”
The lawyers cited the cases of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian Charles Taylor, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The ICC has convicted former warlord Taylor, who became the leader of Liberia in 2012, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Karadžić was eventually arrested in 2008 and convicted of genocide by the same court, and in 2011 his military leader Mladic was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Are there other options?
The ICC cannot hear suspects in absentia. But Mr Khan explained that the court has other ways to proceed with the case. One example is the hearings held to confirm the charges against God’s Resistance leader Joseph Kony, who started a bloody riot in Uganda, but the defendant is on the run.