International court of justice to fast-track ruling on Russian invasion

Ukraine accuses Moscow of illegally justifying war with false genocide claim

The international court of justice (ICJ) has said it will decide “as soon as possible” on a Ukrainian demand for an emergency order that Russia halt hostilities immediately, after a hearing in The Hague that was boycotted by Moscow.

The UN’s highest court closed a hearing on Monday afternoon a day earlier than planned because of the Russian boycott. Ukraine said Russia was obliged to listen to whatever the ICJ ruled.

The court is using a fast-track procedure that can bring a ruling on provisional redress in days. There is no chance of Russia complying with the ruling, but it will deal another blow to Moscow’s waning diplomatic prestige.

Ukraine accuses Russia of illegally justifying its war by falsely alleging genocide in the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk. The case is one of a number being taken by Ukraine to international courts in an attempt to secure a ruling that Russia is acting illegally, or committing war crimes.

“The fact that Russia’s seats are empty speaks loudly,” said the Ukrainian envoy, Anton Korynevych. They are not here in this court of law: they are on a battlefield waging an aggressive war against my country.”

He urged Russia to “lay down your arms and put forward your evidence”.

Acting for Ukraine in the court, David Zionts said: “Ukraine comes to this court because of a grotesque lie and to seek protection from the devastating consequences of that lie. The lie is the Russian Federation’s claim of genocide in Ukraine. The consequences are unprovoked aggression, cities under siege, civilians under fire, humanitarian catastrophe and refugees fleeing for their lives.”

The ICJ was set up after the second world war 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.

The ICJ’s president, Joan Donoghue, said the court regretted Russia’s non-attendance. The ICJ is empowered to give a ruling when one of the parties does not attend to give evidence whether in writing or in person.

Ukraine wants the court to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations”, pending a full judgment on the dispute which could take years.

The case centres on the interpretation of the 1948 UN convention on genocide, signed by both countries. The treaty names the ICJ as the forum for resolving disputes between signatories.

Russia says it is acting in compliance with the UN charter to prevent a genocide which it claims has been committed against Russian-speaking Ukrainians, mainly in the self-proclaimed republic in Donetsk.

Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s “special military action” is needed “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide”, in reference to those whose first or only language is Russian.

A leading association of genocide scholars has backed the view of Ukraine and western powers that Russia was misappropriating the term “genocide” to describe the treatment of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

“There is absolutely no evidence that there is genocide going on in Ukraine,” Melanie O’Brien, the president of International Association of Genocide Scholars, told Reuters.

Since its full invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians. The official UN civilian death toll is 364, including more than 20 children, though officials say the true toll is probably higher.

“Putin lies and Ukrainians – our citizens – die,” Korynevych told the court. “Russia must be stopped and the court has a role to play in stopping it.”

The ICJ is the highest court for resolving disputes between states, and while cases there usually take years, it has a fast-track procedure to look at requests for “provisional measures” to prevent situations from worsening.

The case is separate to a Ukraine war crimes investigation launched by the international criminal court, a different tribunal that is also based in The Hague. The chief prosecutor at the international criminal court, Karim Khan, said last week that he would go ahead with an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
ICC launches war crimes investigation over Russian invasion of Ukraine
International criminal court inquiry has been expedited by unprecedented number of countries backing move

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

03, Mar, 2022 @9:53 AM

Article image
ICC prosecutor says world needs ‘stamina’ to get justice for Ukraine
Court issued warrant for Putin and his children’s commissioner over forcible transfer of Ukrainian children

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

20, Mar, 2023 @3:28 PM

Article image
Prosecution of Russian war crimes is ultimate test for Ukraine’s state
With almost no successful major prosecutions over the last 30 years, those building cases hope things will be different this time

Isobel Koshiw in Borodianka

11, Apr, 2022 @4:30 AM

Article image
Could the international criminal court bring Putin to justice over Ukraine?
Even if Russian leader were charged, he would have to be arrested in a state that accepts the court’s jurisdiction

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

02, Mar, 2022 @2:04 PM

Article image
Russia withdraws signature from international criminal court statute
Tribunal has failed to live up to hopes of international community, Moscow says day after court report on Russian annexation of Crimea

Shaun Walker in Moscow and Owen Bowcott

16, Nov, 2016 @2:14 PM

Article image
Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal, and who decides?
Biden has called Putin a war criminal for the assault on Ukraine. What are the paths to justice?

Associated Press in Washington

17, Mar, 2022 @9:44 AM

Article image
West reluctant to put Putin on trial, say Ukrainian officials
Country is seeking an international tribunal but fears its allies are still focused on future relations with Russia

Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv and Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

06, Sep, 2022 @9:54 AM

Article image
France backs plans for tribunal for Russian officials over Ukraine war
France is first major western country to publicly support proposal for special court to try for crime of aggression

Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

01, Dec, 2022 @2:43 PM

Article image
UN tells of Myanmar genocide but are world powers listening?
Failure to act would not just let the generals off the hook - it could spell the end of the ICC

Simon Tisdall

27, Aug, 2018 @12:27 PM

Article image
ICC ‘turf war’ blocking Ukrainian bid to have top Russians tried, advocate says
Philippe Sands KC backs Ukrainian call for international tribunal to prosecute Kremlin leaders for crime of aggression

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

06, Feb, 2024 @2:00 PM