LONDON, United Kingdom — International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan urged countries Monday to find "the stamina to deliver on justice," as ministers from dozens of capitals met to discuss boosting support for ICC probes into the war in Ukraine.
The gathering of more than 40 ministers in London follows the issue on Friday of arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children's Rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.
They are accused of the war crime of "illegal deportation" of Ukrainian children following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Moscow responded Monday by announcing it had opened its own criminal inquiry into Khan and several ICC judges, branding the warrants "unlawful".
But the ICC chief prosecutor told the London conference that the court's investigation into the treatment of Ukrainian children was apolitical, independent and one of "the hallmarks of my office".
"We need to have, collectively, the stamina to deliver on justice," Khan said, calling the conflict in Ukraine a "moment of a reawakening" for the ICC system.
"This needs to be a moment where we realise if we don't cling to the law, we may have nothing to cling to in the future."
He also decried arguments made that the thousands of Ukrainian children sent to Russia were "humanitarian" evacuations.
"The evidence may will tell a different story," Khan said, imploring Moscow to "repatriate the children".
"Let them learn their own language in their own schools, instead of being in unfamiliar environments with permanent adoptions by strangers," he added.
The meeting in the UK capital, hosted by justice minister Dominic Raab and his Dutch counterpart Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, follows repeated ICC calls for more support for its Ukraine probes.
London has already announced additional funding of nearly £400,000 ($488,000) to help pay for psychological support for witnesses and victims of crimes or to hire additional British experts to reinforce the ICC.
Other countries are set to pledge practical and financial support for the court at the conference, according to the UK's justice ministry. The event also included sessions on evidence gathering and co-ordination to progress investigations, it said.
In 2022, co-host the Netherlands dispatched two forensic investigation teams under the banner of the ICC to collect evidence to be used in investigations into crimes committed in Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion.
Raab, a former lawyer who as a government legal adviser worked on war crimes prosecutions against Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's Charles Taylor, said those at the conference "share the belief that President Putin and the wider (Russian) leadership must be held to account".
"It's absolutely vital that we unite behind the ICC, and that we support the office of the prosecutor with whatever it needs, whether it's resources, whether it's technical expertise, to continue with all of its investigations," he added.
Ukraine's justice minister Denys Maliuska and its prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, also both addressed attendees.
The ICC has more than 900 staff with a budget of 169 million euros for 2023, below the court's request of a 175 million euro budget for the year.
Its 123 member states share responsibility for ensuring the court's finances. It also receives voluntary contributions from international organisations, individuals and corporations.
Khan told BBC radio before the conference that the ICC "can't do everything at once" and does not have "unlimited resources" to probe alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
However, "if reliable evidence has been brought together and gathered, and if there's no exonerating evidence that mitigates or reduces the criminal responsibility, we won't hesitate to act," he said.
Khan noted that the ICC warrants against Putin and Lvova-Belova followed their own admissions that Ukrainian children had been taken to Russia.
"They're not denying that children have crossed international boundaries. They're not denying that they're given to Russian strangers for adoption," he said.
"So the quite important elements of the offence are accepted by the individuals concerned."
© Agence France-Presse