Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to withdraw Russia from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Russia in 2000 signed the Rome treaty which established the Hague-based court, but never ratified it.
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Putin’s decree, published on the Kremlin’s website on Wednesday, comes a day after the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee approved a resolution condemning Russia’s “temporary occupation of Crimea”, and blamed Moscow for rights abuses and discrimination against some Crimean residents, such as Tatars.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the withdrawal is based on “national interests” and argued that since Russia never ratified the creation of the court, Wednesday’s decree was just a formality.
Peskov also dismissed the ICC’s accusations of an “armed conflict” in Crimea, arguing that Crimea joined Russia after a legitimate popular vote.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 from Ukraine after a hastily called referendum, a move that led to crippling Western sanctions.
A separatist armed conflict later erupted in eastern Ukraine the following month, backed by Russia.
On Monday, the ICC issued a preliminary report in which it described what happened in Crimea as “an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation”.
Russia’s foreign ministry insisted in a statement that Russia wants everyone implicated in grave international crimes to face justice but expressed frustration over the court’s work in recent years.
“The court has unfortunately failed to match the hopes one had and did not become a truly independent and respected body of international justice,” the ministry said, adding that in the ICC’s 14 years of work “only four verdicts” have been passed, while $1bn was spent on expenses.
Just hours before Russia’s announcement, the UN human rights chief made a spirited defence of the ICC, entreating countries not to leave it.
The tribunal is already facing a major pushback from African countries, who say it’s a Western institution focused on trying nations from the continent.
Burundi was the first country to withdraw in October. Three days later, South Africa also announced that it planned to leave the ICC, followed by Gambia.
The ICC has been investigating cases against Sudanese and Kenyan leaders, and issued an arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
The ICC was established in 1998 and has over 100 member states.
It is the world’s first permanent court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.