“The Hague is waiting for Putin” is something that plenty of Syrians, Ukrainians and millions of others are deeply hoping to hear.

Vladimir Putin has just withdrawn Russia from the International Criminal Court creating a frightening precedent for great powers. The fact that a permanent security council member can just withdraw its signature from the highest and, in theory, most powerful court in the world is a bad omen. Then again, this is Russia; a state with blatant disregard for human rights and one that actively persecutes minorities.

It is ironic, funny almost in a sick and twisted way, that Russia decides to pull out of the ICC the day after it published and confirmed a report stating that the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 has been classed as an occupation. It is the first time an international organisation has classed the conflict as a military confrontation.

It is entirely possible that Putin and his cronies fear a referral to the ICC; that can’t happen if Russia is not a signatory so this is a way to defend himself from his crimes and grant himself a form of “immunity”. After various officials, and most recently President Hollande of France, have suggested that Russia be referred to the ICC for war crimes committed in Syria after repeatedly targeting airstrikes at hospitals and medical facilities, Putin may be feeling the heat.

This leads down a dangerous path, however. There are laws within the international system for a reason. For a state to just withdraw from an international treaty because it feels aggrieved over how it “may be treated” foreshadows a dark future. If Russia really claims it is innocent, then it should at least fight claims in the ICC. The unfortunate reality is, however, that claiming there is a “Witch-hunt” and “conspiracy” against the Russian state makes sense for Putin.

The ICC has been criticised greatly in the past for only focusing on African leaders and it is only recognised by about 120 countries worldwide. The fear is that the ICC – already struggling for widespread acceptance – will face ever greater struggles in the future.

Zaki Khaf Al-Ghazal
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

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