On March 17, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the President of the Russian Federation and Ms. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, for committing the war crime of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute.
According to the ICC, the crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory at least from February 24, 20222. Reasonable grounds exist that Mr. Putin has individual criminal responsibility for these crimes (1) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (2) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or permitted their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute).
Based on the Prosecution’s application of February 22, 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II believes reasonable grounds exist that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.
Although the warrants are secret to protect victims and witnesses and to safeguard the investigation and because the wrongful conduct is allegedly ongoing and public awareness of the warrants may help prevent further commission of crimes, the Chamber has authorized the Registry to publicly disclose the existence of the warrants, the names of the suspects, the crimes for which the warrants are issued, and the modes of liability.
ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC issued a statement that his Office identified incidents, such as the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes. Thereafter, many of these children have been given for adoption in the Russian Federation. President Putin issued Presidential decrees to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, facilitating their adoption by Russian families.
The Prosecutor’s Office alleges that these acts, amongst others, show an intent to permanently remove these children from their own country in violation of their protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention (see in particular Art. 50).
Mr. Kahn said his application for arrest warrants underscored that most acts in the pattern of deportations were executed in the context of the acts of aggression committed by Russian military forces against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which started in 2014.
Mr. Kahn explained that in September of last year, he addressed the U.N. Security Council and underscored that the investigation of all illegal deportation of children from Ukraine was a priority for his Office.
According to Mr. Kahn, the ICC must ensure that those responsible for alleged crimes are held accountable and that children are returned to their families and communities.
According to Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Ukrainian officials are investigating more than 16,000 incidents of forced removal of children from Ukraine to Russia.
The U.S., Britain, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Switzerland have issued sanctions on Lvova-Belova due to the forced adoptions of Ukrainian children.
Mr. Kahn said he will continue to seek cooperation from the Russian Federation in relation to the situation in Ukraine, and ensure that his Office fully meets its responsibility pursuant to article 54 of the Rome Statute to investigate incriminating and exonerating circumstances equally.
Mr. Kahn said his Office will not hesitate to submit further applications for warrants of arrest when the evidence requires him to do so.
The indictments of heads of state by international tribunals has occurred before. The ICC has indicted Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the deposed president of Sudan; and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader. The ICTY eventually obtained custody and prosecuted Milosevic. He died within weeks of the conclusion of the case.
The implications of the arrest warrant include that the accused will have incur the risks of detention if they travel to 123 countries that are members of the ICC as well as others like the U.S., which is not a member. In addition, the arrest warrant will make Mr. Putin a pariah in much of the world. The arrest warrant is likely to embolden his political opponents, even those in support of the Ukraine conflict.
The issuance of an arrest warrant against a head of state before the prosecution of lower officials is unusual. However, Mr. Putin has issued a decree and publicly made statements about the deportation of children, notwithstanding the ICC Prosecutor’s statements of concern about the same. Hence, the ICC Prosecutor had evidence of Mr. Putin’s personal responsibility for the incidents.
The arrest warrants put on notice other persons in the Russian military and government concerning their potential liability for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The arrest warrants, along with the recent final report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, showing that Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in many regions of Ukraine, are likely to cause some governments that have been on the fence in terms of U.N. resolutions condemning the Russian invasion and multilateral sanctions decide to support these actions.
For a more comprehensive discussion of the arrest warrants, see the April issue of the IELR.
 ICC, Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, March 17, 2023.
 ICC, Statement by Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC on the issuance of arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, March 17, 2023.
 Claire Parker and Robyn Dixon, ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine, Wash. Post, March 18, 2023, A11, col. 1.
 ICC, Statement by Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC on the issuance of arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, supra.
 For a discussion of the report, see Michael Plachta, UN Commission Finds Wide Range of War Crimes by Russian Forces in Ukraine, 39 Int’l Enforcement L. Rep. __ (Apr. 2023).