Q&A: What the ICC arrest warrants mean for Russia’s Putin

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

It also issued a warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, on similar allegations.

Moscow has denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities during the one-year invasion of its neighbour.

In Moscow’s first reaction to the news, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel: “The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view.”

“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” she posted.

Russia signed the Rome Statute in 2000 but never ratified it to become a member of the ICC, and finally withdrew its signature in 2016.

In comments to Al Jazeera, the ICC said that is irrelevant.

Here is a Q&A with ICC President Piotr Hofmanski edited lightly for clarity:

Al Jazeera: Russia says it does not recognise the ICC. It signed the Rome Statute but never ratified it. What does this mean for Putin?

Hofmanski: This is completely irrelevant [the fact that Russia hasn’t ratified the Rome Statute]. According to the ICC statute, which has 123 state parties, two-thirds of the whole international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of a state party or a state which has accepted its jurisdiction. Ukraine has accepted the ICC twice – in 2014 and then in 2015.

Forty-three states have referred the situation in Ukraine to the court, which means that they have formally triggered our jurisdiction. The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on anyone on the territory of Ukraine from November 2013 onwards regardless of nationality of the alleged perpetrators.

Al Jazeera: If Putin travels outside Russia, could he then be arrested?

Hofmanski: Yes, according to the statute, all state parties have the legal obligation to cooperate fully with the court. [This includes] the obligation to arrest a person in respect to arrest warrants issued.

Al Jazeera: There are two cases that you filed, but there are many more allegations of atrocities. Should we be expecting more?

Hofmanski: The situation is still in the hands of the prosecutor. So far, there were two requests for arrest warrants and on the basis of these requests, the response will be issued, but it obviously doesn’t mean it is the end of the situation of the cases. The cases can be expanded. New allegations can be formulated by the prosecutor on the basis of collected information evidence.

Al Jazeera: There was speculation among plenty of experts and a push for some of the charges to include genocide and crimes against humanity. Can you clarify the choice of the language here and the choice of the charges at stake?

Hofmanski: No, we are not talking about crimes against humanity. According to the decision of the pre-trial chamber, the arrest warrants are for alleged war crimes of deportation of children from Ukraine occupied territories to the Russian Federation. It concerns both of the suspects.

Al Jazeera: China is trying to broker peace, and it seems to be making some headway. Is there a concern that these warrants might actually prolong the war?

Hofmanski: This is a political consideration. We are doing our jobs. We are a court of law, and we are acting on the basis of the request of the prosecutor, which is an independent office, and we do what is expected from us.

Al Jazeera: There have been reports both in Russia and Ukraine of the issue of children being taken from across the border. Are you getting cooperation from various different authorities in trying to put all that together?

Hofmanski: This is my understanding. But I have to tell you that the content on the arrest warrants is secret, according to the decision of the chamber. I don’t know how the situation looks like. But the chamber specifically allowed us to share information about the existence of these arrest warrants, about the personal concerns of the alleged crimes – nothing more.

Al Jazeera: As president of the ICC, are you not personally concerned about how this might play out in terms of the ongoing conflict?

Hofmanski: I will repeat, we are a court of law. Obviously, we are fully aware that we are not acting in a political vacuum. But it cannot be the case that we consider political consequences. The statute very clearly formulates our mandate, and we just act according to the mandate to realise the promise of the Rome Statute, including its preamble.

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