On March 17, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crimes of unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from the occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. Federation.
The crimes are said to have been committed from at least February 24, 2023 – the day Russia embarked on an all-out invasion of Ukraine.
Russian officials have since dismissed the ICC indictment and closed ranks around their accused leader.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the accusations “outrageous and unacceptable”, as well as “null and void” because Russia – like China and the United States – does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev called the intergovernmental body a “non-legal entity”, warning that any attempt to arrest Putin “would be a declaration of war on the Russian Federation”.
But ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said it was “completely irrelevant” that Russia had not ratified the Rome Accord. Lawthe treaty that established the ICC.
“The tribunal has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a state party or a state that has accepted its jurisdiction,” he told Al Jazeera. “Ukraine has accepted the ICC twice – in 2014 and then in 2015.”
So, as things stand, all 123 ICC member states are obligated to detain and transfer Putin to the organization’s headquarters in The Hague, Switzerland, if he lands on their territory.
As the second sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes, prosecuting Putin would be a significant achievement for international justice.
The first was former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who in March 2009 and July 2010 was charged with committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the 2003-2008 Darfur war. .
According to the United Nations, the bloody conflict between the Sudanese government and rebel forces has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.
Regardless of the veracity of the charges against al-Bashir, the landmark indictment has amplified widespread discontent in Africa over the ICC’s overemphasis on investigating and prosecuting African leaders.
In 2010, the African Union (AU) urged its member states “not to cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of President Bashir”, allowing countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad, Djibouti, Nigeria and South Africa, among others, to roll out the red carpet for him.
Only a few countries, including Botswana and Malawi, have expressed their willingness to arrest al-Bashir. South Africa refused to arrest him in 2015 when he was attending an AU summit in Johannesburg, saying he had diplomatic immunity. Al-Bashir eventually left the country under unclear circumstances after a South African court ordered his arrest. Later, the southern African nation argued that it believed it had no responsibility under international law or the Rome Statute to arrest a sitting leader of a non-state party.
Meanwhile, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) rightly lamented that “with countries being able to choose whether to be signatories or not” to the ICC, this meant that “gross human violations committed by non- signatories go unpunished”.
It was a valid and relevant observation.
In 2020, for example, the United States denounced an ICC investigation into the actions of American troops in Afghanistan.
Thus, the ANC had described the structural and operational shortcomings of the ICC in stark terms and inadvertently advocated for general reforms. But he did not suggest an alternative court for the thousands of men, women and children who had been raped and killed in systemic state-orchestrated violence in Darfur.
Almost eight years after escaping arrest in Johannesburg, al-Bashir has still not been tried for his alleged crimes by a Sudanese, African or international court.
If African countries were right to condemn the fundamental flaws of the ICC, they should not have stood in the way of sincere attempts to obtain justice for the people of Darfur.
Like other global institutions that are crippled by the violent, lawless and regressive policies and actions of world powers, the ICC must be reformed and decolonized.
In the meantime, African leaders must not repeat the mistakes they made regarding the wrongful arrest of al-Bashir.
From August 22-24, 2023, South Africa will host the 15th BRICS Summit, attended by leaders from Brazil, India, China and Russia.
Should the stubborn and increasingly belligerent Cheese fries attend the meeting, South Africa must uphold its obligations to the ICC and arrest him, even though Russia is a longtime ANC ally.
The Soviet Union provided considerable financial, military and political support to the South African and African movements during the struggles for independence. Nevertheless, this commendable assistance cannot justify any South African or African attempt to prevent Putin from taking responsibility for his alleged war crimes.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor confirmed that South Africa had sought legal advice on how to handle the visit of a suspected war criminal.
The South African Communist Party (SACP), meanwhile, called the ICC a “supranational institution in the service of imperialism”. States”. And Julius Malema, commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, has pledged to protect Putin if he lands in South Africa.
Unsurprisingly, the SACP and EFF have condemned the ICC for its failure to indict and arrest former US President George W Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for orchestrating the long and brutal war in Iraq.
In 2003, the United States, United Kingdom and several allies invaded Iraq under the false pretense that Iraq possessed mass weapons destruction – an imperialist war effort that killed at least 200,000 civilians and caused instability.
Nevertheless, Malema and company are fighting the wrong fight and willfully misinterpreting the essence of international humanitarian law and global justice.
Bush and Blair should certainly face the full force of the law for transgressing Iraq’s sovereignty over false land.
But Putin’s culpability for war crimes in Ukraine cannot be diminished, erased or challenged for the countless US military transgressions around the world.
South Africa must therefore publicly reaffirm its commitment to support international justice before the BRICS summit and affirm its desire to arrest Putin. No African nation committed to the establishment of a just and equitable international order can ignore its murderous and destructive conduct.
Suffice it to say that since many justice systems in Africa are either politically compromised or constantly undermined by despotic rulers, Africa must abandon its redundant fantasy and instead strive to ensure that the ICC becomes a strong and independent multilateral institution.
And as they advocate for legal redress for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in an unjust war, Africans should also seek justice for victims of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Burma and Ukraine.
No one – not even US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping or Putin – must be allowed to break international law and avoid the required legal consequences – especially with African support.
African states must see Putin’s indictment as the perfect opportunity to abolish once and for all the longstanding impunity claimed and perpetrated by world powers.
The Russian leader must be ostracized and make it clear that the world will not support the genocidal chaos he orchestrated in Ukraine.
If he lands in South Africa or anywhere else in Africa, please arrest him.
Putin is expected to face court.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.