Ukraine wants the UN’s most important court to convict Russia. Such a decision would have symbolic weight. How likely is this to happen?
In fact, the case that the 15 judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hear at the Peace Palace in The Hague this week seems to have been clarified. Almost no one outside Russia doubts that Russia is violating international law with its war of aggression against Ukraine. But it’s not that easy.
The court’s authority is controversial
Russia denies that the United Nations’ main judicial body can even try the case Ukraine filed in The Hague shortly after the Russian invasion began in February 2022. The jurisdiction of the ICJ extends only to the extent that states appeal to it generally or in an individual case; Russia did not do this.
Ukraine’s legal representatives use the UN Genocide Convention as an argument to reach a decision.
Russia also signed the Genocide Convention. It defines genocide as an international crime and provides that disputes regarding the application and interpretation of the Genocide Convention will be decided by the International Court of Justice.
Genocide claim aims to legitimize Russian attacks
Putin himself used the term genocide. He clearly justified his “special military operation” by saying that he wanted to protect the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine from the alleged genocide carried out by the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine is now asking the International Court of Justice to rule that no such genocide occurred and that Russia therefore cannot use it to justify its attack. In addition, the case is intended to form the basis for later payment of the damage caused by Russia.
The process can take years
According to international law expert Stefan Talmon, time will tell whether Russia can become involved in the war of aggression by going the legal route through the International Court of Justice’s Genocide Convention.
Talmon expects the process to take several years.
Ukraine’s success in expedited trials
In an emergency procedure, the International Court of Justice provisionally confirmed its jurisdiction and ruled in March 2022 that Russia must immediately cease its military actions in Ukraine. However, the court cannot implement this decision. To do this, Russia will need to rely on the support of the UN Security Council, where it has veto power. This would also apply to a possible conviction in the main case.
Evaluating the reason behind the Ukrainian case, Talmon says, “With this case, Ukraine is once again trying to draw the world’s attention to Russia’s war of aggression.”
Legal support from Western states
Another 32 countries are joining the case at the International Court of Justice with declarations of so-called interference. Germany will also present its legal opinion in court next Wednesday. The Federal Republic has previously justified its particular interest in taking part in the process based on its own history.
International lawyer Talmon said, “The participating states also want to strengthen Ukraine’s back on the legal battlefield. This is an important symbolic political statement. However, it needs to be seen that the field of supporters consists primarily of Western states.” participation.
Proceedings before the International Court of Justice are independent of investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is also headquartered in The Hague. In March, Russian President issued an arrest warrant for Putin. In the case heard at the International Court of Justice this week, it is not Putin or others who are accused of personal responsibility for crimes committed under international law, but rather Ukraine, as a state, is taking action against Russia.
Samuel Kirsch works as a lawyer on the Law and Justice editorial team.
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