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ICC arrest warrants for senior Russian officials: a crucial step towards justice in Ukraine

ICC, Ukraine, war crimes, Sergei Shoigu, Valery Gerasimov, arrest warrants, international law, military officials, Russia, missile strikes, civilian casualties

In a significant development, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu and Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, marking a pivotal moment in the pursuit of justice for war crimes committed in Ukraine. These warrants, issued by Pre-Trial Chamber II on June 24, 2024, target two of Russia’s highest-ranking military officials for their alleged roles in directing attacks on civilian infrastructure and causing excessive harm to civilians.

The Charges

Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, and Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and First Deputy Minister of Defence, stand accused of grave breaches of international law. According to the ICC, they are allegedly responsible for war crimes, including:

  • Directing attacks on civilian objects (Article 8(2)(b)(ii) of the Rome Statute)
  • Causing excessive incidental harm to civilians (Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute)
  • Inhumane acts against civilians (Article 7(1)(k) of the Rome Statute)

The charges stem from a campaign of missile strikes against Ukraine’s electric infrastructure between October 10, 2022, and March 9, 2023. These strikes targeted multiple power plants and substations, causing widespread harm and suffering among the civilian population.

ICC’s Role and Significance

The ICC, established by the Rome Statute in 1998, is the world’s first permanent international court tasked with prosecuting individuals for the most serious offenses of international concern, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Court’s jurisdiction includes crimes committed on the territories of states parties or by their nationals, and Ukraine has granted the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory since 2014.

The arrest warrants for Shoigu and Gerasimov are a testament to the ICC’s mandate to bring accountability for egregious violations of international law. The Pre-Trial Chamber II, composed of Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godínez, and Judge Haykel Ben Mahfoudh, determined there are reasonable grounds to believe these individuals bear responsibility for missile strikes against Ukraine’s infrastructure, resulting in excessive civilian harm.

AOAV’s Findings on Civilian Harm

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has been meticulously documenting the devastating impact of explosive violence in Ukraine. As of May 28, 2024, AOAV’s data reveals the severe toll on civilians since the Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022:

  • Total civilian casualties from explosive violence: 22,743
    • Killed: 6,275
    • Injured: 16,468

These figures are based on incident-specific English language media reporting and underscore the extensive harm inflicted on non-combatants. AOAV’s casualty data highlights the following:

  • Total casualties from explosive weapons: 26,339 across 5,798 incidents
    • Civilian casualties: 22,743 (6,275 killed, 16,468 injured)
    • Armed-actor casualties: 3,596 (2,511 killed, 1,085 injured)

Among the civilian casualties, AOAV has recorded significant impacts on vulnerable groups:

  • Children: 888 casualties
  • Women: 1,904 casualties
  • Men: 2,423 casualties

Locations and Weapon Types

The data shows that 95% of civilian casualties occurred in populated areas, with ground-launched explosive weapons (missile strikes, artillery shelling, and rockets) causing 65% of these casualties. Air-launched explosive weapons accounted for 17%, while multiple types of explosive weapons, naval-launched weapons, IEDs, and landmines made up the remainder.

Civilian Casualties by Region

Civilian casualties have been widespread across various regions in Ukraine, with the highest numbers recorded in:

  • Donetsk: 6,986
  • Kharkiv: 3,645
  • Kherson: 3,387
  • Dnipropetrovsk: 1,669
  • Zaporizhzhia: 1,540

Background and Implications

Since the Russian invasion began, thousands of civilians have suffered due to targeted attacks on urban centers, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and critical infrastructure. The UN estimates that over a million people, primarily women and children, have fled Ukraine, seeking refuge in neighboring countries, while millions more are internally displaced.

AOAV’s data represents the minimum estimates of casualties, as many incidents go underreported. The escalation in violence, particularly in densely populated areas, highlights the urgent need for accountability and justice for the victims.

The ICC’s Role in Upholding Justice

The ICC’s issuance of arrest warrants for Shoigu and Gerasimov is a significant step toward justice. It underscores the international community’s commitment to holding high-ranking officials accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The effectiveness of these warrants, however, depends on the cooperation of states parties to the Rome Statute in apprehending the accused.

The ICC’s actions are critical in sending a strong message that impunity for such grave crimes will not be tolerated. The Court’s role in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the most serious offenses is vital in maintaining international peace and security. The ICC’s mandate ensures that even the highest echelons of power are not beyond the reach of justice, providing a measure of solace to the countless victims of this ongoing conflict.

Conclusion

The arrest warrants issued by the ICC for Shoigu and Gerasimov are a crucial step toward achieving justice for the victims of the conflict in Ukraine. These actions highlight the importance of international legal mechanisms in addressing war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the international community watches closely, the next steps will be crucial in ensuring that justice is served and that those responsible for these heinous acts are held accountable.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) continues to document the impact of explosive violence on civilians and advocates for the cessation of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This action by the ICC brings hope that justice will be served, and the perpetrators of these crimes will face the consequences of their actions.