ICC demands Russia ‘return’ children to Ukraine as justice ministers meet in UK

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has demanded Russia “return” children to Ukraine as alleged war crimes were detailed at a meeting in London.

It comes after the ICC issued a warrant for Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s arrest, accusing him of bearing personal responsibility for the abduction of children from Ukraine.

Speaking during a conference at Lancaster House, where justice ministers from around the world were gathered, Karim Khan KC said the move marked “a really sombre occasion”.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, opening the conference, said it represented a “historic moment” in the conflict.

Mr Khan said: “The allegations are serious indeed, Ukraine is a crime scene, many types of allegations have been received.

“To anybody who says ‘what seems to have taken place is humanitarian evacuations’, the evidence tells a different story.

“The judges have said so by saying repatriate the children, return the children, reunite the children.

“If there are any semblance of truth to the utterances that this is for the sake of the children, instead of giving them a foreign passport, return them to the country of their nationality.”

Dominic Raab greets Karim Khan
Dominic Raab greets Karim Khan (Yui Mok/PA)

The UK is boosting its financial support for the court, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, to £1 million this year and other countries are also expected to commit to financial and practical assistance.

More than 40 nations were represented at the meeting hosted by Mr Raab and Dutch justice minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, spoke of “ruthless” attacks and “atrocities” by Russian soldiers on civilians and territories.

He went on: “Russia acts with a clear plan to destroy Ukraine and Ukrainian identity.

“The deportation and transportation of thousands of Ukrainian children, including from orphanages and care homes to Russia.

“Simplifying their illegal adoption process and confirming their citizenship of an aggressive state is very clear evidence of this plan, this is done to cut ties with Ukraine and alter their Ukrainian heritage.

“My office has already launched investigations into over 72,000 incidents of war crimes.

“Isolated and sporadic attacks, we see how Russian foot-soldiers are meticulously implementing unlawful orders given by the Kremlin.”

The country’s justice minister, Denys Maliuska, said: “There are many people who really have suffered significant damages, losing their husbands and wives, homes and jobs.

“Many families have lost their infrastructures, the whole country was semi-destroyed by Russian soldiers.

“Those damages should be compensated.”

Dominic Raab speaking at the conference
Dominic Raab speaking at the conference (Yui Mok/PA)

Ahead of the conference, the UK Government offered new support and funding for psychological help for victims and witnesses of crimes, more UK experts to work for the ICC and training for investigators to use digital evidence to bring war criminals to justice.

Justice Secretary Mr Raab said: “It is absolutely vital that we unite behind the ICC and we support the office of the prosecutor in whatever it needs.”

He added the support will “strengthen the prosecutor’s hand” in pursuing investigating potential war crimes.

The ICC’s arrest warrant for Mr Putin was the first issued against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

The Kremlin dismissed the move against Mr Putin as “outrageous and unacceptable”.