“Shocking Revelation: Putin Receives Arrest Warrant from ICC – Implications for SA?”

"shocking Revelation: Putin Receives Arrest Warrant From Icc - Implications For Sa?"

In a shocking turn of events, the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for none other than Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Federation’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, on 17 March, 2023.

Given the widespread atrocitie s allegedly committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, Ukrainian National Police have opened over 68,000 specific cases related to these crimes.

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However, this particular ICC arrest warrant is for something altogether more sinister: the alleged transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied territories in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zapporizhzhya, as well as Kherson, Kharkiv and Mykolaiev, over which Russia has exerted control during the ongoing conflict. Indeed, according to Ukrainian authorities, over 16,000 children have been forcibly deported to Russia since the war’s onset.

Although the whereabouts of a significant proportion of these children have been discovered and a small number have been returned, it’s clear that the situation is dire, with many allegedly being used for adoption by Russian families or even “re-educated,” as claimed by Russian authorities on the Kremlin’s official website.

Nevertheless, given that such actions clearly constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the ICC arrest warrant carries significant symbolic weight.

It’s worth noting that the ICC has very limited practical enforceability, yet 123 countries have ratified the Rome Statute establishing this mechanism, which enables prosecution for the most heinous of international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression in some cases). Regrettably, the United States, Ukraine and Russia are not members of the ICC, although South Africa has been a full member since 2002.

The ICC’s dependence on member fees and donations for survival has led to significant understaffing and a reduction in prosecutions in recent years. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, the Prosecutor of the court can initiate an investigation or prosecution if a referring state is a Party to the Statute.

Importantly, acting in the capacity of head of government or military also doesn’t exempt anyone from prosecution by the ICC. Nonetheless, the Court has very limited executive or enforcement power, and instead relies on member states to arrest and transfer defendants, which often requires significant political will. In Russia’s case, it has been hostile to the Court, precluding any evidence collection inside Russia or the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Given all of these factors, it seems unlikely that Putin will be arrested anytime soon. However, the ICC warrant is still noteworthy, given its inherent power as a deterrent to international travel plans for the accused. Furthermore, the warrant can increase the view of the ICC as a legitimate institution.

This development might cement Putin’s identity as an international pariah and geopolitical figurehead of the likes of notorious bad actors, including Jean-Pierre Bemba, Muammar Gaddafi and Omar Al-Bashir.

South Africa’s position in setting out to potentially welcome Putin despite an ICC warrant for his arrest is increasingly tenuous, and the country will find it harder and harder to maintain a stance of neutrality given the international moral implications of its actions.

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