The International Criminal Court says it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Putin for war crimes because of his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.
The court said in a statement that Putin “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
It also issued a warrant Friday for the arrest for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation on similar allegations.
A Kremlin spokesperson called the arrest warrant “outrageous and unacceptable”, and labeled the ICC's decisions as “legally void.”
The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe 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.”
After his most recent visit, in early March, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he visited a care home for children two kilometres from frontlines in southern Ukraine.
“The drawings pinned on the wall … spoke to a context of love and support that was once there. But this home was empty, a result of alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or their unlawful transfer to other parts of the temporarily occupied territories,” he said in a statement.
“As I noted to the United Nations Security Council last September, these alleged acts are being investigated by my Office as a priority. Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war.”
And while Russia rejected the allegations and warrants of the court as null and void, others said the ICC action will have an important impact.
“The ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia's war against Ukraine for far too long,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
“The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit, or tolerating, serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague.”
Professor David Crane, who indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor 20 years ago for crimes in Sierra Leone, said dictators and tyrants around the world “are now on notice that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable to include heads of state.”
Taylor was eventually detained and put on trial at a special court in the Netherlands. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment.
“This is an important day for justice and for the citizens of Ukraine,” Crane said in a written comment to the Associated Press Friday.