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Insights into Editorial: Russia withdraws backing for International Criminal Court treaty



Insights into Editorial: Russia withdraws backing for International Criminal Court treaty



Russia has said it is formally withdrawing its signature from the founding statute of the international criminal court, a day after the court published a report classifying the Russian annexation of Crimea as an occupation.

  • In this regard, Vladimir Putin has signed an order to have Russia withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC).International Criminal Court
  • Putin has also instructed Russia’s foreign ministry to notify the United Nations of the country’s refusal to be subject to the body’s activity, following the same move by Gambia, South Africa and Burundi.



  • Russia signed the Rome statute in 2000 and cooperated with the court, but had not ratified the treaty and thus remained outside the ICC’s jurisdiction. This means that the latest move, though highly symbolic, will not change much in practice.
  • The repudiation of the tribunal, though symbolic, is a fresh blow to efforts to establish a global legal order for pursuing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Reasons behind Russia’s move:

  • According to Russia, the tribunal had failed to live up to hopes of the international community and denouncing its work as “one-sided and inefficient”.
  • Russia specifically said it had lost trust in the court over its handling of an investigation into the five day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, saying that it had not properly investigated alleged Georgian crimes.
  • Recently, ICC had published a report that recognised the annexation of Crimea as a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and classified it as an occupation.
  • The report also compared the situation in the Crimea and Sevastopol to the international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian federation.
  • Russia may also be concerned about ICC jurisdiction in Syria, where its forces have been repeatedly accused of carrying out war crimes in recent months.


Russia’s arguments:

Russia insists Crimea was incorporated into Russia following a legitimate referendum in accordance with international law and publicly denies its military involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.



The Russian federation had employed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the territory of Ukraine without the consent of the government of Ukraine.

  • Russia has insisted that Crimea voluntarily joined Russia after a referendum, but international observers say the referendum was hastily organised, did not meet international standards, and was conducted as Russian troops swept through the peninsula.
  • Having initially denied vehemently that Russian troops were involved in the takeover, Putin later admitted it.


About ICC:

The International Criminal Court was set up by international treaty in 2000 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.


At a glance | The International Criminal Court (ICC):

  • Established:2002.
  • Budget:€139.5 million (in 2016).
  • Headquarters:The Hague, the Netherlands.


What does it do?

The ICC investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with crimes of concern to the international community.


What sort of crimes?

The ICC has jurisdiction over four main crimes:

  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity.
  • War crimes.
  • Crimes of aggression.


Key facts:

  • It is the first permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.
  • The ICC is an independent international organisation, and is not part of the United Nations system.
  • Although the Court’s expenses are funded primarily by States Parties, it also receives voluntary contributions from governments, international organisations, individuals, corporations and other entities.
  • The Assembly is presided over by a president and two vice-presidents, who are elected by the members to three-year terms.


Recent developments:

In recent months, three African countries who were all full members of the ICC – South Africa, Burundi and Gambia – have signalled their intention to pull out, following complaints that ICC prosecutions focused excessively on the African continent. Significant numbers of people across Africa appear to be tired of what they see as the court’s bias, with the vast majority of cases coming from this part of the world.


Challenges ahead:

The ICC has struggled to obtain widespread international acceptance. The US, India and China as well as most Middle Eastern states have declined to ratify the Rome statute which established the court.

About 120 countries, mainly smaller states, have ratified the treaty. The resurgence of nationalist politics, apparent in Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, suggests the tide may be turning against international legal institutions.


How can the ICC be strengthened?

  • If the court is expected to intimidate the worst type of criminals though, it needs powerful allies. There’s a gaping hole in the ICC’s membership list. Several concrete steps should be taken to strengthen international justice, including appointing an International Justice Ambassador, putting more resources into charging suspected war criminals and advocating through diplomacy.
  • The court should also tread carefully around powerful states, particularly the U.S. It has opened investigations into 10 countries; of these, nine are in Africa. It’s not a good look. The docket’s imbalance doesn’t actually prove the court’s bias – let’s not forget that many African countries were initially eager to fall under ICC jurisdiction, are not willing or able to conduct their own proceedings, and have requested court intervention themselves. Still, investigations into Western-led torture and abuse might improve the court’s reputation for impartiality, rather than fuelling an unfair but powerful sense that the ICC is the enforcement agency of aggressive Western states.
  • Legally, politically and financially, the ICC isn’t as strong as it needs to be. That fact is sobering to every person who honestly believes in the basic principles of justice – including those who believe that no injustice has been committed. This should be taken care of.


Way ahead:

Membership of the Rome Statute is a voluntary and sovereign decision which is the prerogative of all States. The ICC is respectful of each States’ sovereignty. At the same time, the support of the international community is necessary for the ICC to fulfil its independent and impartial mandate to help end impunity for the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, provide justice to the victims of such crimes and contribute to the prevention of future atrocities.



The court has continued to do the work for which it was created and has made significant achievements in addressing crimes of concern to the international community as a whole such as the use of child soldiers, sexual violence in conflict, attacks on civilians and the destruction of cultural property. Therefore, any act that may undermine the global movement towards greater accountability for atrocity crimes and a ruled-based international order in this new century is surely – when objectively viewed – regrettable. International criminal justice is a long-term project and should remain a top priority in order to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice and protect victims across the world equally.