MEIG Highlights, Latest News 9 mai 2022

Highlight 28/2022 – Will Putin be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court?

Marie Marthe Renée Letoublon, 9 May 2022

On Thursday, 28 April 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited sites of alleged war crimes in Ukraine. He urged Russia to “agree to cooperate” with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations. Because of its role and its Prosecutor’s initiatives, the ICC is now in the political spotlight. The international community has placed great hopes in its hands to resolve the conflict and prosecute the perpetrators.

The ICC is a Treaty-based court that currently has 123 States Parties. It is in charge of trying individuals accused of the most serious crimes affecting the international community as a whole, namely the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. It may exercise its jurisdiction if the crimes were committed by a State Party national, or in the territory of a State Party, or in a State that has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court (article 12 of the Rome Statute).

Ukraine and Russia are not State Parties, but by declarations dated 8 September 2015 and 17 April 2014, Ukraine accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC over crimes allegedly committed on its territory since 21 November 2014 and falling under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

On 2 March 2022, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC opened the investigations following the memorandum of the Prosecutor notified on 1st March 2022 and after 43 State Parties referred the situation in Ukraine to the Court. On 25 April 2022, the Office of The Prosecutor of the ICC joined, for the first time, national authorities in Joint Investigations Team (JIT) on international crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine.

However, in this context, can we expect Putin to spend a forced and unpleasant holiday in Scheveningen? Will Putin be prosecuted before the ICC?

First of all, in addition to other legal issues that may arise (for example the jurisdiction of the ICC for the crime of aggression, etc.), the Prosecutor has to collect sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that the person committed at least one of the crimes charged. The evidence submitted to the court must meet very high standards of credibility.

Then, in that case, the suspect should be arrested and surrendered to The Hague. The Rome Statute provides that once investigations have been initiated, the Prosecutor may request the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue an arrest warrant (article 58). If a warrant is issued, the accused must be arrested. However, the ICC has no police force and must rely on the cooperation of States Parties which must fully comply with the requests for arrest and surrender (article 86).

However, supposing that the person named in the warrant is not present in the territory of one of the States Parties, in that case, the suspect cannot be arrested and brought to The Hague without the voluntary cooperation of the Non-State Party. The trial cannot take place because the Rome Statute explicitly provides, with rare exceptions, that the accused must be present at his or her trial (article 63). The trial in absentia exists to this day, in international criminal law, only before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and its corollary, a Defence Office, as an independent body guaranteeing the fairness of the trial in absentia[1].

Therefore, the issuance of such an arrest warrant will not mean that Putin will be arrested as it is unlikely that he leaves Russia and move to a “non-friendly” State willing to cooperate with the ICC.

In conclusion, it is too early to assume that the Court will have the opportunity to judge the perpetrators of crimes committed in Ukraine because of the above-mentioned legal and practical obstacles. For the time being, it remains for the Court to play its role, investigate the alleged crimes, and act as a tool to stop the conflict.

Marie Marthe Renée Letoublon, Highlight 28/2022– Will Putin be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court?, 9 May 2022, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.

[1] François Roux, « Le procès de Vladimir Poutine devant la Cour Pénale Internationale n’aura pas lieu … A moins que … »,  Diplomat Magazine, 15 March 2022, available at (last accessed 4 May 2022)


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