The International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children’s Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for the mass kidnapping of Ukrainian children.
This means that an international arrest warrant for Putin has now been issued, reflecting the speed with which the international legal community has pursued allegations of war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
These are the first cases opened by the ICC since prosecutors launched an investigation into war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine last February.
What do we know about the Ukrainian children taken by Russia?
The court’s provisional judges said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each accused bears responsibility for the war crime of the unlawful deportation of the population, and that of the unlawful transfer of the population of the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in defiance of the Ukrainian children.” The judges said they had chosen to reveal the names of the suspects in an effort to prevent further crimes.
Reports first emerged last spring that Ukrainian children in occupied territory were brought to Russia and even adopted by Russian families. Russia has presented its actions as a humanitarian mission to save Ukrainian children from war. But Ukraine has accused Russia of genocide and described its actions as a war crime.
Who are the children involved?
The alleged abductees include children taken from Ukrainian state institutions in the occupied territories, children whose parents sent them to Russian-run “summer camps” from which they never returned, children whose parents were arrested by Russian occupation authorities and children orphaned by the fighting.
Where do the children come from?
The vast majority of Ukrainian children taken by Russia come from the occupied territories of southern and eastern Ukraine: the Kherson region, the Kharkov region, the Zaporizhzhia region, the Donetsk region and Luhansk region, as well as a small part of the Mykolaiv region.
How many children were taken?
Russia has admitted to holding at least 1,400 Ukrainian children it describes as orphans, though it said at least 2,000 had traveled to Russia unaccompanied. In addition, several hundred children from the occupied territories remain in Russia after visiting “re-education camps” with parental consent, but have not been returned.
What happened to the orphans?
At least 400 Ukrainian orphans have been adopted by Russian families since the invasion, according to the Ukrainian Regional Center for Human Rights, which calculated its figure based on statements from the Russian state. Russia has said 1,000 more are waiting to be adopted.
Lvova-Belova, the Russian children’s commissioner, has herself described “adopting” a 15-year-old child from Mariupolthe southeastern Ukrainian city that was destroyed and occupied by Russian troops.
But many of these Ukrainian children have living relatives who are often desperate to find them. About 90% of Ukrainian children living in state care at the time of the invasion were “social orphans”, meaning they had relatives, but those relatives could not care for them.
Russian state announcements about the orphans do not name the children or give details of where they are from or where they live in Russia, making it difficult for Ukrainian and international authorities to identify and track their movements.
In some cases, relatives have identified children through videos posted by Russian state media and campaigned for their return. Cases have also been documented of children ending up in Russian state care after fleeing fighting in Ukraine on evacuation buses to Russia, as well as children being separated from their parents in Russian filter camps.
What are the summer re-education camps?
At least 6,000 Ukrainian children in the occupied territories attended Russian state-funded summer camps, and several hundred of them have not been returned to their families.
The camps, described as “re-education camps” in a February study by Yale University, were advertised by the occupying authorities as a way for children to escape war for a while.
Since the start of the conflict a year ago, children as young as four months old living in the occupied territories have been taken to 43 camps across Russia, including Crimea and Siberia annexed by Moscow, for “pro-Russian patriotic and military actions”. related education,” according to a report from the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab.
Some parents have managed to get their children back by making the long journey from Ukraine through Poland and the Baltic states to southern Russia. Others have given proxies to secret networks of anti-Putin volunteers to get their children out of Russia. But videos released in November by regional Russian occupation authorities showed hundreds of children still living in the camps.
What does international law say?
The UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide prohibits “forcible transfer of children from the group to another group”, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the “unauthorized transfer and non-return of children abroad”.
It is unclear under which section of international law the ICC intends to launch the case.
What does Russia say?
Russia’s domestic story is that it rescues Ukrainian children from war. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Ukraine, which is also not a party to the ICC, has twice requested the court to exercise jurisdiction over its territory.