Russia withdraws from International Criminal Court after report on Crimea

November 17, 2016 Oleg Yegorov, RBTH
Russia has withdrawn its signature from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, meaning crimes committed by Russian citizens will no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the court. The decision comes shortly after the ICC published a report describing the Russian presence in Crimea as an “occupation.”
International Court United States
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree announcing Russia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. Photo: The headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Source: AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree announcing Russia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), just a day after the ICC released a prosecutor's report in which Russia’s seizure of Crimea was equated to an international conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

"The ICC did not live up to our expectations and did not become a truly independent, authoritative organ of international justice," said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement on Nov. 16, declaring that Russia was withdrawing its signature from the Rome Statute, the founding statute of the ICC. Russia signed the Rome Statute in 2000 but has never ratified it.

According to the ICC report, published on Nov. 15, Russia used its troops to "obtain control over parts of Ukrainian territory without consent from the Ukrainian government.” The report says that the situation in Crimea can be considered an “occupation.” It also recognizes the Russian presence in Ukraine’s Donbass region as part of an international conflict.

What exactly is the Rome Statute?

The ICC's Rome Statute is also called the ICC charter. This is a founding document that establishes the rules of criminal proceedings in relation to matters that fall under the ICC's competence.

"The Court's jurisdiction is limited to the most serious crimes that concern the entire international community," says Article 5 of the Rome Statute. The ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

According to Article 126, the statute enters into force for countries that have signed or ratified it. Therefore, citizens of the countries that have not signed and ratified the Rome Statute do not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Since Russia has refused to ratify the agreement, its withdrawal of its signature means that if a Russian citizen commits an act that the court considers a crime, he or she will no longer be tried according to the ICC charter and rules.

Skepticism towards the ICC

Although 124 states are currently party to the Rome Statute, political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Politics magazine Fyodor Lukyanov points out that Russia's position in relation to the ICC's Rome Statute is not unique.

"The U.S. also signed but has not ratified the Rome Statue [just like Russia until recently]. Basically, they will not allow their citizens to be tried by anyone except the American courts," said Lukyanov, explaining that Russia adheres to a similar position.

Lukyanov adds that previously Moscow participated in the ICC's activities only formally, so there should not be any serious changes due to its withdrawal from the court.

"Russia was never an ardent advocate of transatlantic justice. Its rather reluctant following of the trend to create a universal international court was conditioned by the fact that earlier everyone was doing it," he said.

According to Lukyanov, the declaration on Crimea "served as a certain impetus" for Russia's formal refusal to participate in the ICC. The Russian government does not agree that the activity of Russian citizens in relation to the Russian takeover of Crimea should fall under ICC jurisdiction.

At the same time, Lukyanov emphasizes that Russia's skeptical relation to the ICC had been present in its policy for a long time and in the given case the Russian government's statement is a formal gesture.

Read more: Russian media: Trump may abandon Ukraine>>>

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