Message from The Hague: putin's arrest warrant could be the war’s turning point. What did the West want to convey and to whom?
And how did similar cases end for other bellicose rulers?
Analysts consider the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to arrest russian president vladimir putin on Friday, 17 March, to be an important political message. It will destroy the 'aura of impunity' around the russian leader and make other authoritarian leaders nervous. Especially Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the eve of his 'friendship visit' to russia.
Mind has gathered the opinions of Western analysts on how the arrest warrant for the russian dictator could affect the balance of power. It also recalled which other top politicians had previously been 'honoured' with similar warrants and what their fate was.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague was established in 2002 to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is not part of the UN and is accountable to countries that have ratified the Rome Statute, an international treaty adopted in 1998. The ICC's jurisdiction does not include russia (signed but not ratified the Rome Statute), Ukraine (signed but not ratified), the United States (signed but later withdrew) and China (did not sign the statute).
Why did the ICC decide to arrest putin?
vladimir putin is suspected of war crimes committed in Ukraine after 24 February 2022. The warrant for his arrest was issued concerning the "unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the russian federation". According to the Ukrainian authorities, during the year of full-scale military operations, russians took more than 16,220 Ukrainian children out of the country.
"There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, (i) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (ii) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute)," the court said in a statement.
Why was The Hague court's statement made public immediately?
The court also issued a similar warrant for the arrest of maria lvova-belova, the children's ombudsman. One reported that initially the investigation into her and the russian president was secret, but it was decided to make the information public "to prevent further crimes".
The announcement of the intention to arrest vladimir putin was welcomed by the authorities of the United States, Germany and France. "It is clear that he has committed war crimes," said US President Joe Biden, stressing that the court had made a 'justified' decision and demonstrated a 'strong position'.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann called the warrant "an important signal of determination". All those who helped the russian dictator to foment a bloody war have seen that they would have to answer for it in court.
"No one responsible for the crimes committed by russia in Ukraine, regardless of their status, should escape justice," the French Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.
How will the ICC warrant hurt putin?
The Hague court, according to the New York Times, has "pierced putin's aura of impunity". The status of a suspect will seriously damage the image of the russian president, who has so far been considered inaccessible to justice.
"The court's ruling, which has undisputed moral authority, put mr. putin on a par with Omar al-Bashir, the ousted Sudanese president accused of war crimes in Darfur; Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian leader imprisoned for abuses during the Balkan War; and the Nazis tried at Nuremberg after World War II," the New York Times said.
How soon can The Hague convict putin?
Experts doubt that the russian dictator will be brought to trial soon. The ICC does not pass sentences in absentia, and the accused must be personally present in The Hague for the court to consider the case.
However, the arrest warrant will increase putin's isolation. The russian president will be able to travel internationally only to those countries that will not extradite him to the international court. The jurisdiction of the ICC is recognized by 123 states, including the United Kingdom and the entire European Union. Each of these countries must execute an arrest warrant and detain the suspect.
It is worth noting that states do not always comply with the orders of international courts. For example, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the ICC countries, but they did not execute the arrest warrant. However, such visits have always raised the issue of crime and punishment, causing inconvenience to both Omar al-Bashir and the host country.
"Henceforth, putin will always be described as not only the president of russia, but as an indicted fugitive of the International Criminal Court as a war criminal." USA Today quoted American lawyer and diplomat David Scheffer, former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, as saying.
Why is the ICC warrant considered a signal to China?
Experts link the court's decision announced on 17 March to the Chinese leader's official visit to moscow. At putin's invitation, Xi Jinping will arrive in the russian capital on 20 March.
"If the arrest warrant's timing and the meeting with Xi is just a coincidence, the collision of the two events could actually make Xi nervous as he faces mounting Western pressure to stop supporting the russian regime," Newsweek quoted Eleonora Tafuro, an expert at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, as saying.
The arrival in moscow will be Xi Jinping's first international trip after being elected to an unprecedented third term as Chinese president. It is expected that during his visit, the two countries will once again announce the strengthening of their partnership, particularly in the defence sector.
"This (news of the arrest warrant – Mind) will hang over the upcoming meeting between President Xi and president putin. China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will have to think about its credibility and role in the world, especially if it is also considering providing lethal aid to russia," thinks Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army Europe Commanding.
Although China claims to be neutral in the war against Ukraine, the United States is increasingly vocal in condemning it for playing along with russia. Beijing, in turn, criticizes the West for its anti-russian sanctions, accusing NATO of escalating the conflict, and declares an 'unlimited partnership' with the kremlin.
What other dictators has The Hague been interested in?
vladimir putin has become the fourth head of state to be prosecuted by the ICC.
In 2008, the court ordered the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide against three ethnic groups in the Darfur region. In 2019, al-Bashir's regime was overthrown in a military coup, and he was arrested in Sudan but not extradited to The Hague.
In 2011, the President of Côte d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, was extradited to The Hague after losing the election and being arrested during an assault on his residence. He was accused of crimes against humanity committed during the suppression of anti-government protests in 2010-2011. Eight years later, in 2019, Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted.
Also in 2011, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who was accused of crimes against humanity during the suppression of mass protests. He did not live to see the trial. On 20 October 2011, the leader of the Jamahiriya was killed by rebels with particular cruelty.
In 2006, Slobodan Milošević, one of the most odious leaders of the late 1990s, who was called the 'architect' of the war in Yugoslavia, died in prison in The Hague. The Serbian politician was taken into custody in 2001 and spent five years in a cell awaiting a court decision. Milošević's case was considered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, specially created by the UN Security Council.
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