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International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Russian officials for attacking civilians in Ukraine

The court accused ex-Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Army chief Valery Gerasimov of war crimes and crimes against humanity by attacking civilian targets in Ukraine. The ICC had previously issued a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for attacks on children in Ukraine.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: June 25, 2024 19:40 IST
Russia's ex-Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the
Image Source : REUTERS Russia's ex-Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov

The Hague: In a significant move, the International Criminal Court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for Russia's former defence minister Sergei Shoigu and its military chief of staff Gen Valery Gerasimov of war crimes and crimes against humanity for attacking civilian targets in Ukraine. This comes at a time of intense battle between Moscow and Kyiv in recent days that have left scores of people dead.

In an official statement, the court noted that "there are reasonable grounds to believe" that the two officials are involved in the war crime of directing attacks at civilian objects and causing excessive harm to civilians. They also bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least October 10, 2022, until at least March 9, 2023.

"The (Pre-Trial) Chamber (II) observed that one of the core objectives of international humanitarian law is the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Therefore, the Chamber, when assessing criminal responsibility for the alleged perpetration of war crimes during the conduct of hostilities, must consider whether the alleged conduct abided by the principle of distinction, which prohibits the use of armed force against civilians and other protected persons," it further said.

Under the leadership of Shoigu and Gerasimov, the Russian military has launched waves of missile and drone strikes on Ukraine that have killed thousands and damaged the country's energy system and other vital infrastructure. Moscow has insisted that it only has targeted military facilities despite daily casualties in civilian areas.

Russia, which like Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, has repeatedly said Ukraine's energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure. However, the court has no means to enforce an arrest, and many of its previous rulings have been ignored in the past as it does not have a force of its own.

ICC arrest warrant against Putin

Russia isn't a member of the global court, doesn't recognise its jurisdiction and refuses to hand over suspects. In March last year, the international court issued arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, including abduction of children. Putin was charged along with Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights. Russia rejected the allegations and imposed sanctions on ICC prosecutor Karim Khan and British ministers in August last year in a tit-for-tat move.

Russia began criminal proceedings against Khan and three ICC judges in March on the grounds that they had committed "signs of crimes" in accordance with Russian law. This includes deliberately unlawful detention in the cases of the judges and knowingly accusing an innocent person of a crime in Khan's case.

Putin replaced Shoigu as defense minister in a Cabinet shakeup in May as he began his fifth term as president. Shoigu, 69, has been widely seen as a key figure in Putin's decision to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Shoigu, who had personal ties with Putin, got a soft landing with the high-profile post of secretary of Russia's Security Council

Which leaders have been named in ICC arrest warrants?


The ICC has also issued arrest warrants for the infamous Libyan dictator, Sudan's ousted president Omar Al-Bashir, African warlord Joseph Kony and more. None of these leaders, who were named for war crimes, were actually arrested as Bashir and Kony remain at large while Gaddafi was killed in 2011.

The founding Rome Statute of the ICC obliges all 124 signatory states to arrest and hand over any individual subject to an arrest warrant if they set foot on their territory. However, the court has no means to enforce an arrest, although member states ignoring the arrest calls can be sanctioned.

The ICC is the permanent court of last resort, established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Several countries don't accept the court's jurisdiction, including the United States, China and Russia. The ICC becomes involved when nations are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes on their territory.

In a major move, ICC prosecutor Khan said he made a request for the arrest warrants of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence chief Yoav Gallant in May, along with three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel and Hamas reacted furiously to the allegations put forth by Khan. The announcement deepens Israel's isolation as it presses ahead in Gaza, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | UK politician Nigel Farage sparks criticism for saying West 'provoked' Putin to attack Ukraine



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