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“Cross-border crimes, including deportation, fall under ICC jurisdiction,” says expert as Armenia joins Rome Statute

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The Armenian National Assembly approved the ratification of the Rome Statute — the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) — on October 3.

The document is to be signed by the country's President Vahagn Khachaturyan within a week. Once it enters into force, crimes committed on the country's territory will begin to fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Gleb Bogush, a lawyer and researcher at the University of Copenhagen, told The Insider that Armenia will be able to initiate an international investigation into crimes allegedly committed against the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Both crimes committed on the territory of Armenia and crimes committed by Armenian citizens will fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC after Armenia's accession to the Statute is finalized. As for crimes that are committed on the territory of Azerbaijan, the court will not have such jurisdiction in this case.
However, the charges may also relate to cross-border crimes, such as deportation. We see this in the example of Myanmar and Bangladesh: the territory of Myanmar does not fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC, but the court deals with crimes against the Rohingya because the victims in this case, as the prosecutor believes, were deported to the territory of Bangladesh. In this scenario, if some actions of the Azerbaijani authorities are considered deportation, they could theoretically fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Armenia will have an opportunity to raise these issues in such a practical way.
As for the crimes committed before the ratification, the parliament adopted a special declaration on recognizing the jurisdiction of the court over the crimes committed since May 10, 2021. In principle, even a state that has not acceded to the Rome Statute can recognize the court's jurisdiction, as Ukraine, which has not yet ratified the Statute, has done.”

Armenia initially signed the Rome Statute in 1998 but had not ratified it until now. In March 2023, Armenia's Constitutional Court deemed the obligations outlined in the Rome Statute concerning the ICC in line with the country's constitution. Russia viewed the intention to ratify the treaty as a hostile move, as the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March this year.

“Our Armenian partners were initially informed about the unacceptability of Armenia's ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC in conditions when this structure has issued arrest warrants for Russia's top leadership,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on September 28.

The Armenian authorities have repeatedly explained that ratification of the Rome Statute is necessary due to the continuing threat of military aggression from Azerbaijan. Yerevan seeks to ensure that war crimes by the Azerbaijani army fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Armenian authorities previously stressed that they have “no intention or desire” to arrest Putin.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the ratification of the Rome Statute was linked to the country's desire to ensure its security, as strategic cooperation with Russia had proven insufficient. “This decision is in no way directed against the CSTO or Russia, it stems from the interests of our external security, and making such a decision is our sovereign right,” Pashinyan said.

Bogush believes Armenia will have a “legal obligation” to arrest the Russian President if he comes to the country.

“It will be a shame if Armenia starts its participation in the ICC by violating the court's statute. However, Putin, of course, will not go to Yerevan. In my opinion, he has no immunity within the ICC. The Armenian authorities recognize him as head of state and believe that he has immunity. That’s a question for them [to answer]. But it was not Armenia that issued the warrant. Under the ICC statute and in accordance with the court's practice, states parties are obliged to execute warrants and arrest those suspects who are on their territories. There will be a legal obligation here.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova on March 17. Both officials are suspected of organizing the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin was notably absent from a recent BRICS summit in Johannesburg, as he would have been arrested while attempting to cross South Africa’s border, as the country is a signatory to the Rome Statute. Putin took part in the summit via video call, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov representing Russia in person.

In early June, Reuters reported that South Africa was looking for ways not to arrest Putin without violating its obligations to the ICC.

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