Prosecuting Putin won’t be easy. And it and won’t guarantee the children return home

1 week ago 25
By Stefan Schmitt

March 18, 2023 — 5.13pm

The International Criminal Court has issued an apprehension warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, implicit warfare crimes successful Ukraine, alleging helium bears “individual transgression responsibility” for abducting thousands of children from occupied parts of the country.

Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, was besides cited by the tribunal connected akin charges.

People clasp  flares successful  colours of the Russian nationalist  emblem  during an enactment   to people    the ninth day  of the Crimea annexation from Ukraine with an representation  of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

People clasp flares successful colours of the Russian nationalist emblem during an enactment to people the ninth day of the Crimea annexation from Ukraine with an representation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit:AP

They people the archetypal apprehension warrants the autarkic tribunal, based successful The Hague, has issued since Russia launched a full-scale penetration of Ukraine successful February 2022.

But the improvement volition not warrant the imminent apprehension of Putin. The ICC, arsenic it is often called, does not person its ain constabulary unit and requires different supporting countries to enforce its warrants.

“The ICC is doing its portion of enactment arsenic a tribunal of law. The judges issued apprehension warrants. The execution depends connected planetary cooperation,” the court’s president, Piotr Hofmanski, said successful a connection connected March 17.

As Russian constabulary aren’t apt to apprehension their country’s leader, arsenic agelong arsenic Putin remains wrong Russia, helium is astir apt safe.


Since Russia launched an penetration of Ukraine successful February 2022, the Ukrainian government, Western powers and the United Nations person collected grounds of Russian violations of planetary humanitarian law, specified arsenic warfare crimes. This includes wide intersexual unit and the forced abduction and transportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.

Since 1998, I person worked successful securing forensic grounds of these types of crimes successful Afghanistan, Guatemala and different places. To me, it is evident that identifying and collecting grounds of planetary crimes similar sidesplitting civilians during struggle is beyond the capabilities and resources of section constabulary transgression country teams, transgression investigators and prosecutors.

It’s besides apt that the afloat grade of warfare crimes committed by some Ukraine and Russia won’t beryllium credibly investigated and perchance prosecuted until aft the warfare yet ends.

It surprises maine that apprehension warrants would beryllium issued for the abduction of Ukrainian children. In bid to successfully prosecute this crime, investigators volition request to amusement that not lone did the alleged abductors instrumentality the children against their will, but that they besides did not mean to instrumentality the children to their ineligible guardians. This tin beryllium much challenging to beryllium than different kinds of warfare crimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is improbable  to ever   beryllium  arrested by his ain  nation’s constabulary  force.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is improbable to ever beryllium arrested by his ain nation’s constabulary force.Credit:AP

To enactment these upcoming indictments into perspective, it is besides utile to retrieve that the International Criminal Court, an autarkic tribunal based successful The Hague often known arsenic the ICC, tends to absorption connected high-level cases that spell aft governmental leaders and is not tasked to supply answers to families of each victims.

Proving warfare crimes

War crimes, nether planetary law, hap erstwhile civilians, prisoners of war, hospitals oregon schools – fundamentally anyone and thing that isn’t progressive successful subject activities – are targeted during a conflict.

The Ukrainian authorities and Donetsk People’s Republic, a Ukrainian breakaway portion occupied by Russians, person prosecuted and convicted some Russian and Ukrainian soldiers for warfare crimes since February 2022.

Ukraine has truthful acold convicted 25 Russian soldiers of warfare crimes successful Ukraine. These prosecutions rise questions astir however grounds is collected and handled to enactment these cases – and astir credibility.

Ukraine has a past of authorities corruption, and Donetsk is some not recognised internationally and is backed by Russia, which has a judicial strategy known to tolerate torture.

I analyse cases successful which instrumentality enforcement, subject and constabulary are alleged to person committed crimes against civilians without accountability. In galore cases, these alleged crimes hap during a civilian war, similar the Guatemalan civilian warfare successful the precocious 1970s and aboriginal 1980s, oregon the Rwandan struggle and genocide successful the mid-1990s.

This means that I often enactment with planetary organisations similar the United Nations to question to these places and papers carnal grounds of warfare crimes – instrumentality photographs, instrumentality notes, bash measurements and gully sketches to exemplify a imaginable transgression scene. The thought is that immoderate different experts tin prime up this grounds and scope their ain conclusions astir what happened there.

Crime country investigators similar maine mostly bash not find whether a warfare transgression was committed. That is simply a determination reserved for the authoritative oregon a justice who is fixed the evidence.

Beyond governmental interests

Considering that this warfare is fought betwixt Ukrainians and Russians – but involves different countries similar the United States – immoderate autarkic effort to analyse warfare crimes volition rise questions of credibility.

In this context, 1 has to see if an autarkic probe and prosecution are adjacent possible. The ICC is possibly the champion candidate, adjacent though it is acold from immune to governmental pressure, peculiarly from almighty countries.


The ICC has a circumstantial mandate to spell aft radical allegedly liable “for the gravest crimes of interest to the planetary community.” This includes genocide, crimes against humanity and warfare crimes. The forced transportation and deportation of a radical of radical is simply a warfare crime.

But the ICC isn’t tasked with investigating the destiny of victims connected each sides of the war. This volition instrumentality a abstracted effort, decades of enactment and outgo a ample magnitude of money, requiring the enactment of affluent countries.

Since its inception successful 2002, the ICC has indicted much than 40 people, each from Africa, and convicted 10 of them. While 123 countries are enactment to the ICC, meaning they person signed connected to enactment its work, neither Russia nor Ukraine has ratified the pact that allows the ICC to analyse crimes connected their territories oregon by their forces.

Russia’s overseas ministry responded to the March 17 announcement by the ICC by saying that the apprehension warrant does not “have meaning” for Russia, since it is not a enactment to the ICC.

The US besides ne'er ratified the ICC’s founding treaty, with the justification that it would not judge prosecution of US soldiers by a overseas court.

Ukraine, though, has fixed the ICC constrictive jurisdiction to analyse crimes determination since 2014.

In immoderate cases, the ICC has not been capable to successfully prosecute radical adjacent erstwhile it issues indictments. The tribunal successful 2009 and 2010, for example, issued indictments against Omar al-Bashir, erstwhile caput of authorities successful Sudan, for his relation successful carrying retired genocide, and directing warfare crimes successful Darfur. Yet, adjacent though al-Bashir travelled internationally, nary authorization successful immoderate state helium visited ever arrested him, contempt the ICC’s apprehension warrant.

Proving abductions took place

Russian forces person moved astatine slightest 6000 Ukrainian children to camps and facilities crossed Russia for forced adoptions and subject training, according to a March 2023 study by the Conflict Observatory, a programme supported by the US State Department.

Showing capable grounds that Russia forcibly abducted the children and did not mean to instrumentality them to their ineligible guardians would apt impact the children’s household members giving witnesser statements. That is unless the ICC’s authoritative has obtained Russian subject documents oregon communications that intelligibly bespeak that these are involuntary abductions.

Contrast this with trying to prosecute Russian subject commanders and leaders for conducting aggregate bombings of nonmilitary sites successful Ukraine, specified arsenic hospitals oregon schools. It would beryllium comparatively elemental to supply grounds that the attacks connected these places constituted warfare crimes, arsenic agelong arsenic determination is nary grounds that these sites mislaid their protected presumption nether planetary law, specified arsenic grounds that a bombed infirmary oregon schoolhouse had been utilized for subject purposes.

The victims

War crimes involving monolithic numbers of casualties permission down a multitude of surviving household members, each of whom person the close to cognize the destiny of their loved ones.

But it is important to retrieve that the ICC’s prosecution of immoderate warfare transgression volition not widen beyond the idiosyncratic apprehension and prosecution of soldiers and governmental leaders. The tribunal is not liable for repatriating children to their respective families.


Stefan Schmitt is simply a forensic idiosyncratic with a inheritance successful transgression country investigations and forensic anthropology astatine Florida International University’s Global Forensic and Justice Centre. He has worked for International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia.

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