July 22, 2024

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for former Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for alleged international crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The court said on Tuesday the pair were allegedly responsible for two war crimes: directing attacks at civilian objects and causing excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects.

They are also accused of committing crimes against humanity.

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On the same day, Europe’s top court found Russia guilty of systemic human rights violations in occupied Crimea committed since February 2014, marking a victory for Kyiv in its first interstate hearing brought against Moscow over the peninsula that could pave the way for more such cases.

Following the ICC’s announcement, Russian state news agency TASS quoted the Security Council of Russia, the government body headed by Shoigu, as calling the court’s decision “null and void”.

“It is meaningless, as the ICC’s jurisdiction does not extend to Russia, and [the decision] was made within the framework of the West’s hybrid war against our country,” TASS quoted the body as saying.

Ukrainian officials welcomed the ICC’s announcement on Tuesday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the decision shows that “no military rank or cabinet door can shield Russian criminals from accountability”.

The country’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said the ICC decision meant Ukraine was a step closer to getting justice.

“Sooner or later, a just punishment will overtake every war criminal!” he said in a statement posted on his Telegram.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said Shoigu and Gerasimov were being held “individually responsible”.

“This is an important decision. Everyone will be held accountable for evil,” he said in a statement.

The arrest warrants put Shoigu and Gerasimov on the ICC’s wanted list, although it is uncertain whether they will ever stand trial.

The court does not conduct trials in absentia and it is unlikely they would be handed over by Moscow.

The two warrants bring the total number of top Russian officials wanted for war crimes to four as the ICC has previously issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

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Located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute, the ICC operates independently.

Most countries – 124 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are notable exceptions, including the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

Under the Rome Statue, any country that is a signatory is obliged to arrest and hand over anyone facing an ICC arrest warrant.

Crimea human rights ruling

In a separate case on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that Russia violated 11 articles of the European Convention of Human Rights in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow following its illegal invasion of the peninsula 10 years ago.

They included violations of the rights to life, liberty, security and a fair trial, and the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, according to a court news release.

The court also found that Russia violated three protocols of the European Convention: the protection of property, the right to education, and the freedom of movement.

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The court ruled Russia must safely return prisoners who were taken from Crimea into Russia.

Some of the violations that Russia was found guilty of date back to 2014.

Margarita Sokorenko, Commissioner for the European Court of Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, said the ruling “essentially nullifies Russia’s decades-long claims that human rights in Crimea are respected”.

Russia has previously denied allegations of human rights violations in Crimea, and was expelled from the Council of Europe in March 2022 following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In response, Moscow removed itself from the European court’s jurisdiction, and set March 15, 2022 as a cut-off point after which it claimed any rulings made against Russia would not count.

Harming civilians

Shoigu, one of the Russian nationals wanted by the ICC, is a long-time close ally of Putin who served as Russia’s defense minister for 12 years.

He was fired by Putin last month, replaced with the economist Andrey Belousov.

He led the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which caught Kyiv by surprise but was soon pushed back, exposing the weaknesses of Moscow’s corruption-riddled military.

Still, Shoigu has remained a popular politician in Russia.

Having spent two decades as the minister of emergency situations, he cultivated an image of an official who brings help when it’s needed.

Gerasimov, meanwhile, has been at the helm of Russia’s armed forces for more than a decade.

He was one of a small group of people responsible for planning the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He was formally appointed as the overall commander of the campaign in January 2023.

The ICC said the alleged crimes relate to “a large number of strikes against numerous electric power plants and sub-stations” that were carried out by Russia across Ukraine between October 2022 and at least March 2023.

The panel of three judges who made the decision to issue the arrest warrants on Monday concluded that Shoigu and Gerasimov ordered strikes against civilian objects, which constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian laws.

The judges also said that even though some of the targets could have been seen as relevant to Russia’s military campaign at that time, it was clear that striking them would cause harm to civilians and that the expected harm would be excessive compared to the military advantage of hitting them.

The court’s prosecutor Karim Khan said in a separate statement on Tuesday that the Russian campaign at that time represented “a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts against a civilian population”.

As such, he said, the actions by Shoigu and Gerasimov may amount to a crime against humanity.

That designation is reserved for the most serious crimes committed as part of a widespread, systemic attack directed at a civilian population.

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