Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Wednesday to withdraw Russia from the International Criminal Court, which rules on such grave charges as genocide and crimes against humanity, the AP reports. Russia in 2000 signed the Rome treaty that established the Hague-based court but never ratified it. Putin's decree, published on the Kremlin's website, comes a day after the UN General Assembly's human rights committee approved a resolution condemning Russia's "temporary occupation of Crimea" and blamed Russia for rights abuses including discrimination against some Crimean residents, such as Tatars. Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 from Ukraine following a hastily called referendum, a move that led to crippling Western sanctions. A separatist insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine the following month, backed by Russia.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, explained the withdrawal by "national interests" and argued that since Russia never ratified it, 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'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. Just hours before Russia's announcement, the UN human rights chief made a spirited defense of the ICC, entreating countries not to leave it. Several African nations have recently announced plans to leave the treaty.