‘Acts of genocide’: Ukraine set to square off with Russia at UN’s top court

Kyiv presses urgent case at International Court of Justice, as lawyer for Russia announces resignation because Moscow ‘cynically despises’ international law

Ukrainian troops walk past a body, following fighting against Russian forces and Russia-backed separatists near the village of Zolote, Lugansk region, March 6, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)
Ukrainian troops walk past a body, following fighting against Russian forces and Russia-backed separatists near the village of Zolote, Lugansk region, March 6, 2022. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

AFP — Ukraine will square off with Russia at the UN’s top court on Monday, with Kyiv asking judges in The Hague to order Moscow to immediately halt its invasion.

Kyiv lodged an urgent case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on February 27, saying that Russia had illegally justified its war by falsely alleging genocide in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Ukraine alleges that it is Russia that is planning “acts of genocide” in the offensive launched by President Vladimir Putin on February 24.

Kyiv has asked the court to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations,” pending a full judgment that could take years.

“Ukraine emphatically denies that acts of genocide have been committed,” Kyiv’s application to the court said. “Russia thus expressly bases its ‘special military operation’ — in fact a full-scale, brutal invasion of Ukraine — on an absurd lie.”

In an unusual step, ICJ President Joan Donoghue issued an “urgent communication” to Russia on March 1 asking it to “act in such a way” that any order should take effect quickly.

The two-day hearing at the ICJ’s Peace Palace headquarters will begin with Ukraine speaking on Monday morning. Russia is slated to reply on Tuesday.

It was not clear how Moscow would formally contest Ukraine’s application and the Russian embassy in The Hague did not respond to a request for comment.

The United Nations flag flutters in the wind next to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands, on August 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

In another blow to Moscow’s case, its legal team will be weakened by the resignation of one of its long-time French lawyers, Alain Pellet.

“Lawyers can defend more or less questionable causes,” Pellet said in an open letter. “But it has become impossible to represent in forums dedicated to the application of the law a country that so cynically despises it.”

The ICJ was set up after World War II to rule on disputes between UN member states, based mainly on treaties and conventions.

Its rulings are binding but it has no real means to enforce them.

Experts said Ukraine’s effort to drag Russia to the world court over the invasion could have symbolic value, though it was unclear if Moscow would heed any order.

“It remains to be seen what will happen at the provisional measures stage but my bet is that the court will find that it has prima facie jurisdiction,” Cecily Rose, assistant public law professor at Leiden University, told AFP.

“Not that Russia is likely to comply but still — rhetorically and symbolically there is some power to this,” added international public law professor Marko Milanovic, writing in the European Journal of International Law.

This case hinges on the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, to which both Ukraine and Russia are parties.

The ICJ was already dealing with a dispute between the two countries dating back to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Moscow rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk.

But now, Kyiv says that Russia “has falsely claimed that acts of genocide have occurred in the Lugansk and Donetsk” regions and has invaded on that basis.

“Russia’s lie is all the more offensive, and ironic, because it appears that it is Russia planning acts of genocide in Ukraine,” Kyiv’s application said.

The case is separate from a Ukraine war crimes investigation launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC), a different tribunal also based in The Hague.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan on Wednesday announced he was going ahead with an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion.

Most Popular
read more: