In the days since the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was charging Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova with the war crimes of unlawfully deporting children and transferring them from Ukraine to Russia, many have asked: why did the ICC start with children? Why not other crimes?
The first thing to note is that the arrest warrants issued against Putin and Lvova-Belova represent only the first strike by ICC chief Prosecutor Karim Khan. A few days before the warrants were announced, it was reported that the Prosecutor was preparing another warrant of arrest in relation to the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine by Russian forces. There is every reason to believe that a warrant regarding, for example, Russia’s shelling of apartment buildings, maternity wards, and power plants, is in the pipeline or has already been issued but remains under seal.
Still, why start with the abduction and illegal transfer of children?
First and foremost, the scale of efforts to abduct and transfer children from Ukraine to Russia is staggering. According to reports citing official Ukrainian statistics, 16,226 children have been deported from Ukraine to Russia. 10,513 have been located, and 308 have returned. Per a recent report from Yale University on the matter, this war crime no less a systemic and wholesale atrocity than any other, and it is being perpetrated against a particularly vulnerable group of civilians: children. Sufficient evidence was there for the Prosecutor and the ICC Judges and they went for it. Whether Khan’s team of investigators push to add a warrant for the forcible transfer of children as genocide remains to be seen.
The government of Ukraine has also very clearly communicated to the ICC Prosecutor that the abduction of children is its priority. In a widely televised meeting between Khan and Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President informed the Prosecutor of this primary concern for Ukraine, stating:
I know there are a lot of different war crimes and of course we want justice and [to] bring all of these guilty people – all of them. But I think that the priority for our people, it’s about our future generation, it’s about our children. I think that this question is for me, number one, that you can focus on the case of deportation of our children and that it is very important to bring them back.
Focusing on the war crime of illegally transferring and deportating children from Ukraine to Russia indicates that Khan has accepted and is willing to act on the wishes of the Ukrainian state. But there is more to it too.
The focus on children could help delegitimize the very reasons for Putin’s war. In an op-ed that otherwise speculates rather wildly about the consequences of the ICC targeting the Russian President, Michael Byers makes the salient argument that the Court’s “arrest warrant discredits Mr. Putin’s claim that the invasion was an act of self-defence. Abducting children, after all, has nothing to do with protecting Russia against NATO.”Continue reading