ICC to plead for extra money to pursue Russian war crimes in Ukraine
Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the international criminal court, will plead on Monday for extra cash to pursue Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including the potential prosecution of Vladimir Putin for overseeing the abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia.
Khan made his dramatic move against the Russian president last week ahead of a conference in London co-hosted by the UK and the Dutch government aimed at raising cash to fund the ICC’s war crimes investigatory work inside Ukraine. The ICC’s budget has not been increased even though it has 40 investigators working inside Ukraine.
The headline-grabbing Putin warrant may also defuse the growing demands from within Ukraine and some international law experts for a special tribunal to be set up to address the broader crime of aggression by Russia.
Khan, a British judge, has always insisted the ICC has the required powers to prosecute the role of the Russian leadership in the war. However, critics say an accountability gap remains and that a special tribunal would be a more effective vehicle since it would not need to prove a causal link between individual special war crimes and the Russian leadership class.
More than 40 nations are attending the conference hosted by the UK deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, and the Netherlands’ minister for justice and security, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. The UK is providing an extra £395,000 to fund the ICC’s work.
Denys Maliuska, Ukraine’s justice minister and Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, will attend. They do not believe the ICC initiative over child abduction last week eradicates the need for a special tribunal. A conference in Lviv on 3 March changed the terms of reference of a seven-nation joint Ukraine war crimes investigation team to provide a future role for a new international centre for the prosecution of the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
Some leading countries, including the UK, have not yet backed the idea of a special tribunal, fearing it may undermine the still fledgling work of the ICC.
The turf war between the ICC and advocates of a special tribunal became more serious when the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she supported a dedicated tribunal.
As recently as 4 March she reiterated her support for a tribunal, while adding that she supported the work of the ICC.
The ICC decision to prosecute Putin has little immediate practical impact since Russia is not a signatory to the Rome statute and does not recognise the authority of the court. In theory, countries that are signatories would be obliged to arrest Putin if he set foot on their soil. Putin does not travel widely, but is due to attend a Brics summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in South Africa in the summer.
A spokesperson for the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said on Sunday that it was aware of its responsibilities.
“We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders,” Vincent Magwenya said.
In practice, South Africa has ignored arrest warrants in the past, including one for the former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who visited the country in 2015.