The abduction of Ukrainian children and a deliberate attack on civilian infrastructure will be the first cases related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Western media report.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that ICC prosecutor Karim Khan intends to ask pretrial judges to approve arrest warrants for several individuals based on evidence gathered by special investigation teams that have been working for several months.
According to the media, which quoted current and former officials with knowledge of the decision who are not authorized to speak publicly, this could be the first time that ICC warrants have been issued in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to the NYT, the first case involves Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children and teenagers for illegal adoption or “re-education” in Russian camps.
“As part of a Kremlin-sponsored program, they were taken from Ukraine and placed in homes to become Russian citizens or sent to summer camps to be re-educated, The New York Times and researchers have found. Some came from orphanages or group homes,” the newspaper said.
According to NYT correspondents, Moscow does not hide its program, presenting it as a humanitarian mission to protect orphaned or abandoned Ukrainian children from the war.
The newspaper recalls that the Russian commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, who became the public face of the program, began sending children to Russia a few weeks after the invasion began in February 2022. She regularly appeared on television to promote adoption and has herself announced the adoption of a Ukrainian child. In May last year, Putin signed a decree to expedite Ukrainians’ receipt of Russian citizenship.
In the second case, according to the NYT, the ICC is expected to consider evidence of Russia’s continued attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Since October 2022, Russia has been attacking water, gas, and electricity supply facilities with drones and long-range missiles, which are far from the war zone and are not considered military targets.
As for the judicial procedure, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan must first present his charges to a panel of pretrial judges who will decide whether legal standards for issuing arrest warrants have been met or whether investigators need additional evidence, NYT journalists explain.
According to the newspaper, it remains unclear who the court plans to charge in each case. The prosecutor’s office refused to provide information, referring to the confidentiality of the details of ongoing investigations. Journalists also say that the cases are likely to be heard in absentia, as Russia is unlikely to extradite its own officials.
Citing diplomats and experts, the newspaper does not exclude the possibility of charges against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The court and international law do not recognize the immunity of the head of state in cases related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.
In early March, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan personally inspected the sites where Russian missiles and drones hit civilian infrastructure in the Kyiv region.
He also visited an orphanage in the liberated south of Ukraine, and his office published a photo of Khan standing among empty cribs.
“In southern Ukraine, two kilometers from the frontlines, I visited a care home for children. The drawings pinned on the wall and the cupboards full of clothes spoke to a context of love and support that was once there. But this home was empty, a result of alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or their illegal transfer to other parts of the temporarily occupied territories. As I noted to the United Nations Security Council last September, these alleged acts are being investigated by my Office as a priority. Children cannot be treated as spoils of war,” he said in a statement after his visit.
A report published in February by Yale University and the U.S. State Department’s Conflict Observatory program said that at least 6,000 children from Ukraine are being held in 43 camps in Russia. These are only confirmed figures, and the actual number of children is believed to be higher. According to the Ukrainian government, as of early March, there may be more than 16,000 abducted children.
Earlier it was reported that Russia uses five scenarios to abduct children from Ukraine.
It was also reported that last week the EU imposed sanctions for the first time against Russians involved in sexual violence in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the International Center for the Prosecution of Crimes of Aggression against Ukraine is to start operating in The Hague by early summer, where evidence for future trials will be stored and analyzed.
Photo: ICC prosecutor Karim Khan visited a care home for children two kilometers from the frontlines in southern Ukraine. March 2023. Source: ICC official website.