From Vladimir Putin to Joseph Kony: the big goals pursued by the International Criminal Court

Key points
  • The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin.
  • The ICC issues such warrants when countries may or may not prosecute suspects.
  • The President of Russia is now part of a long and infamous list of ICC targets.
President of Russia on Friday became the last high-profile figure against whom .

Here’s a look at other big names set to be targeted in the court of last resort for the world’s worst crimes, when countries can’t or won’t prosecute suspects even though not all of them have been apprehended.

Joseph Kony

In 2005, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Joseph Kony and other leaders of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the use of child soldiers and sex slaves.

But Kony was never arrested and remains on the run.

Thomas Lubanga

In its first conviction since taking office in 2003, a court in The Hague sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison in 2012 for recruiting children into his rebel army in 2002-2003.

In 2014, he upheld the decision on appeal. In 2015, Lubanga was transferred to Kinshasa to serve the rest of his sentence and was released in 2020.

Jean-Pierre Bemba

Former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Jean-Pierre Bemba was imprisoned in 2008 after being convicted by the ICC of crimes committed by rebels under his command in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003.

But the court overturned his conviction on appeal in 2018.

Omar al-Bashir

In 2009, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be issued an arrest warrant by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western Darfur region.

In 2003, fighting broke out in Darfur between ethnic minority rebels and the Arab-dominated government of Bashir.

Two years after he was removed from power, Sudan announced in 2021 that it would hand over Bashir to the ICC, but the promise was not kept.

Bashir has been held in Khartoum’s Kober prison since his exile.

Laurent Gbagbo

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo became the first former head of state to be tried by the ICC in 2016.

He was wanted by the ICC in connection with the violence that shook Côte d’Ivoire in 2010-2011 after Gbagbo refused to recognize the results of an election won by his rival Alassane Ouattara.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo in 2011 after thousands of people died in violence in the West African country and he was transferred to a detention center in The Hague.

But after a three-year trial, he was acquitted of crimes against humanity and released in 2019. Gbagbo returned to the Ivory Coast in 2021 after being acquitted.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has been under an arrest warrant since 2011 for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the uprising that led to his father’s overthrow.

He was arrested in Libya in 2011 but is believed to be on the run because the Libyan authorities do not know where he was detained.
His release has been announced several times, but his whereabouts remain unclear.

In 2021, it was unexpectedly announced that Saif had become the first heavyweight candidate to register for the presidential election, but his bid was rejected by the election commission.

Uhuru Kenyatta

The ICC suffered a major setback in 2014 when its high-profile case fell apart implicating former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in the inter-ethnic violence that erupted after the disputed 2007 elections.

Kenyatta, elected in 2013, reluctantly went to trial, becoming the first sitting head of state to do so, but the prosecutor was forced to close the case amid accusations of witness intimidation and bribery.

Special tribunals

Other ad hoc tribunals have sentenced leaders accused of the most serious crimes.
Charles Taylor, a former Liberian president and military leader who also served in the Sierra Leone civil war, was sentenced in 2012 by a special court to 50 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He became the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II in 1945 and 1946.
former President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and died in his cell in The Hague in 2006 while being tried by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.