The arrest warrant against Russia's President Vladimir Putin may have significance far beyond the symbolic one, as believes international law professor Mark Klamberg.

"Russian families who adopt abducted Ukrainian children are forced to face the idea that they contribute to war crimes."

Mark Klamberg is professor of international law at Stockholm University. Archive image.
Mark Klamberg is professor of international law at Stockholm University. Archive image.

The list of Russian war crimes and human rights crimes under investigation in Ukraine is long: the International Criminal Court ICC arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin concerns the mass movement of Ukrainian children to Russia, where many are said to have been adopted away.

Analysts and experts point to the symbolic value, but the prospect of bringing Putin to trial is difficult to assess. Mark Klamberg, professor of international law at Stockholm University, still sees merits of several kinds.

On the one hand, in the form of a kind of travel ban on Putin, because there is always a risk that the countries he travels to execute the arrest warrant, on the other hand by sending a message to the Russian families who adopt abducted Ukrainian children.

Manife station to mark the mass transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on 23 February 2023.
Manife station to mark the mass transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on 23 February 2023.

"In their imagination, I guess many people think they're doing a good deed. With this, these families have to ask themselves – do we contribute to war crimes?"

"I think that has a real consequence in that families who are perhaps about to adopt instead abstain, which would be of great importance."

Delicate History

All 123 states affiliated to the ICC have a legal obligation to execute the arrest warrant – would Vladimir Putin set foot within their jurisdiction. Already in August awaits one, with Mark Klamberg's words, delicate history.

The ICC member South Africa will then host a BRICS Summit, including Russia.

"As I understand it, Putin will be there. If that happens, South Africa has a duty to arrest him", says Mark Klamberg.

In the past, however, the country has proved unwilling to heed the ICC's calls. However, in 2009 and 2010 the Court issued arrest orders against Sudan's former President Omar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur. Nevertheless, the South African government refused to arrest al-Bashir when he made a controversial visit to the country in 2015.

"They want to host the summit, but on the other hand, they want to show that they are following the court's request for the arrest warrant."

More can follow

Earlier this week, it was reported that the ICC was planning two preliminary investigations into war crimes in Ukraine, on the one hand on the movements of children and on the other on the attacks on civil infrastructure.

"Now he has gone from words to actions in the former. I suspect that there are already arrest warrants for the second category of charges, and then I imagine that this is about Minister of Defense Shoigu and Russian generals."

Normally, the ICC shares their arrest warrants with police authorities, but keeps them otherwise secret in order to increase the chances of arrest.

"Either it has been decided in this case, or you can imagine that there will soon be a second round of published arrest orders."

TT: Is it likely that Putin will one day be brought to justice?

"Many, including myself", do not see it as realistic that Putin ends up in The Hague. But the same thing was said about Milosevic (President of Yugoslavia) and a few years later there was a change of regime in Belgrade and they chose to release him. My answer is that it will only happen if there is a change of regime in Moscow – and now even if Putin would choose to travel to the wrong country for him.

Facts: ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court based in The Hague, Netherlands. It judges in goal on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The ICC began its activities in 2002 and is a complement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) ICJ judges in intergovernmental disputes and the ICC judges individuals who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity or have been complicit in genocide.

The Court is activated by allowing an internationally appointed prosecutor to extradite a suspect from a country where the offense was committed, from the country where he is a national or from a third country where the consent of one of the first two States exists.

When the ICC came into being, it was seen as a milestone in the pursuit of an international justice system, but over the years it has become increasingly criticized, including for being politicized, and there have also been criticisms of the fact that a majority of its work has been directed at Africa.

The US has repeatedly opposed the Court's work. In 2020, US sanctions were directed against ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda when she sought to investigate possible war crimes during the US's war in Afghanistan.