The International Criminal Court said Friday it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir 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 of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, on similar allegations.
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.”
Over the course of the last year, the prosecution — as well as the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office — has been gathering evidence from a multitude of country and individual sources. CBS News’ Pamela Falk reported earlier this week that ICC prosecutor Karim Khan was preparing to seek arrest warrants for individuals involved in the alleged abduction of Ukrainian children and targeting of civilian infrastructure.
Earlier this month, Khan visited Ukraine for a fourth time. “I leave Ukraine with a sense that the momentum towards justice is accelerating,” he said in a statement.
Russia’s foreign ministry responded to the arrest warrants with a statement saying, “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.”
Lvova-Belova, accused of spearheading the program of transferring children, defended her conduct. “What I want to say: firstly, it’s great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we don’t leave them in the war zone, that we take them out, that we create good conditions for them, surround them with loving caring people,” she said.
An indictment of Putin would make the president of Russia an international fugitive, CBS News’ David Martin reported.
“It’s not easy for a head of state to fear being arrested when he or she puts foot in a European country or in a North American country,” said Justice Richard Goldstone, the chief prosecutor of war crimes committed in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Ambassador Beth Van Schaack, the State Department official in charge of assembling evidence that could help prove Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine, told Martin: “He is inevitably now trapped in Russia. He will never be able to travel internationally, because it would be too great a risk that he would be captured and brought before a court of law.”
The same holds true for any other Russian charged with war crimes.
“They will enjoy some impunity while they stay within Russia,” Van Schaack said, “but what we have seen is perpetrators don’t stay within their home states. They want to go shopping in Europe or go on vacation somewhere, and they get identified, and then the law enforcement is activated. And we are never more integrated than we are now.”
Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law professor who worked in the office of the ICC prosecutor, explained to CBS News, “The issuance of arrest warrants is the first step to achieving accountability for war crimes — it signals that there is evidence that war crimes have been committed and that identified individuals are responsible for them and the persons charged will forever run the risk of arrest or surrender, particularly if they travel to one of the 123 states that are members of the court.”
President Biden has called Putin a “war criminal” and called for him to face trial, but the U.S. is not part of the International Criminal Court, having never ratified the treaty that created the institution.
CBS News has investigated alleged torture and war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russian forces since early in the invasion. In August, CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay spoke with Ukrainian children who had been taken to Russian territory against their will, then rescued and brought back to Ukraine.
A February report from the Humanitarian Research Lab at Yale’s School of Public Health, which was sponsored by the U.S. State Department, concluded that “all levels of Russia’s government are involved” in the transfer of children from Ukraine.
“We have identified at least 43 facilities in this network of camps, institutions that are holding Ukrainian children or have held Ukrainian children. This network stretches from one end of Russia to the other, ” the lab’s director, Nathaniel Raymond, said at a briefing Feb. 14.
“The primary purpose of the camps appears to be political reeducation,” he said, but added that children from several of the camps were later “placed with Russian foster families or in some form of adoption system.”
–Pamela Falk, David Martin and Camilla Schick contributed reporting.