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Can the International Criminal Court bring Vladimir Putin to justice for war crimes?

The International Criminal Court will open an investigation into possible Russian war crimes in Ukraine. But President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be brought to justice. here’s why

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court {ICC} in The Hague in the Netherlands has opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, where civilians were killed and towns destroyed during the Russian invasion.

Prosecutor Karim Khan said on Thursday he had opened the investigation following a referral from 39 countries, including Britain, Germany, France and Poland. “I notified the ICC Presidency a few moments ago of my decision to immediately proceed with active investigations into the situation. Our evidence collection work has now begun,” he announced.

Khan can now begin the investigation without needing court approval.

Follow all live updates on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict here

But what is the ICC? What are the crimes prosecuted by it? Can this court bring Russian President Vladimir Putin and his other leaders to justice?

We answer the questions here:

What is the ICC and what is its role?

The International Criminal Court {ICC} is an independent judicial body which “investigates and, where appropriate, tries those accused of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crime of ‘aggression”.

“The Court is part of a global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, the Court aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent those crimes from happening again,” indicates the ICC website.

The ICC is not part of the United Nations, but its founding treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at a conference in Rome in July 1998. The Rome Statute is the culmination of a long process of consideration of the issue of international criminal law within the United Nations, according to its website. It entered into force on July 1, 2002 after being ratified by 60 countries.

What crimes does the ICC investigate?

The ICC prosecutes four offences, considered the worst crimes in the world: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

It defines war crimes as “serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions in the context of armed conflict and includes, for example, the use of child soldiers; killing or torturing people such as civilians or prisoners of war; intentionally direct attacks against hospitals, historical monuments or buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes”.

Crimes against humanity are “serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack on any civilian population” and include murder, rape, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and enslavement, in particular of women and children.

Genocide is characterized by the specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means such as bodily or mental harm.

The crime of aggression is “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, integrity or independence of another state”, according to the ICC.

What is the punishment for a war crime?

An individual convicted of a war crime is likely to be sentenced to 30 years in prison or life in prison, depending on the seriousness of the offence. The court cannot pronounce a death sentence.

A woman holds a sign reading ‘International Criminal Court in The Hague’ above portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside the Russian Embassy in Rome. AFP

Is Russia guilty of war crimes?

Khan said he was “convinced that there is a reasonable basis to believe that alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine.”

The United Nations has recorded 230 civilian deaths, including 15 children since the start of the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s emergency service puts the civilian death toll at more than 2,000. It also accused Russia of destroying kindergartens, hospitals, homes and orphanages.

Russia relentlessly shelled civilian areas, attacking the main Ukrainian cities of Kiev, Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol. A missile attack, which destroyed a television tower in Kiev, also destroyed the Holocaust memorial Babyn Yar and a museum building.
Read also: Ukraine seizes the ICJ against Russia: the International Court of Justice and its jurisdiction explained

Can Russia be held responsible?

One hundred and twenty-three countries are part of the ICC. However, 40 countries have not signed, including Ukraine. Russia withdrew from the ICC in 2016, after the court called the annexation of Crimea an occupation.

Since Ukraine is not a member, it cannot refer to the alleged war crimes alone. However, he accepted the court’s jurisdiction, which allows for an investigation.

There is growing evidence that Russia is guilty of war crimes, but its leaders cannot be prosecuted unless the country is a party to the court. The United Nations Security Council has the power to file complaints against a non-party, but Russia is a permanent member of the council. This means he can veto it.

Is there a way to punish Putin?

To prosecute Putin for war crimes, he must be proven responsible. If he is accused of war crimes and goes to a country that has universal jurisdiction, he can detain him. But as long as he remains in Russia, it is difficult to take action against him.

National courts can prosecute individuals despite their nationality and whether an offense has been committed if they have universal jurisdiction laws in place. Russia is bound by these laws, but the challenge remains to arrest Putin and bring him to justice. For that to happen, Russia will need a new regime that will not only oust Putin but also extradite him, The Guardian reports. It seems impossible at the moment.

Has the ICC indicted anyone in the past?

The ICC has indicted 45 people since it began operations, including Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Libyan head of state Muammar Gaddafi.

What are world leaders saying about Russia?

US President Joe Biden said it was clear Russia was deliberately targeting civilians. When asked if Russia was committing war crimes, he added: “We are following this very closely. It is too early to tell. »

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin “cannot commit these horrific acts with impunity”.

Joining the call to investigate Russia’s war crimes, Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said it was also important “for us to show that we are unwavering in our support for the ‘Ukraine”.

With contributions from agencies

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