Ukraine Takes its Case Against Russia to the UN’s Highest Court

Ukraine Takes its Case Against Russia to the UN’s Highest Court

Ukraine turned to the United Nations’ highest court on Monday to try to stop Russia’s invasion, urging its judges to issue an injunction demanding that Russia end its violent incursion in the country.

Anton Korynevych, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, told a hearing of the International Court of Justice at The Hague that “millions are in danger” from Russian attacks. He accused Moscow of defiling the Genocide Convention, the 1948 U.N. treaty prohibiting genocide, by falsely claiming that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine as one of the pretexts for its invasion.

“Russia must be stopped, and the court has a role in stopping it,” Mr. Korynevych told the 15-judge bench on the highest court for resolving disputes between states, adding that it was Russia that was committing genocidal acts in Ukraine.

Russia boycotted the hearing. The presiding judge, Joan E. Donoghue, said, “The court regrets the nonappearance of the Russian Federation in these oral proceedings.”

Alain Pellet, a renowned French lawyer who has represented Russia in other international proceedings — including defending Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula — resigned from Russia’s legal team at the start of the invasion last month. In an open letter, Mr. Pellet wrote, “It has become impossible to represent in forums dedicated to the application of the law a country that so cynically disdains it.”

An injunction from the court, though legally binding, would not be expected to have an immediate impact on Russian military operations. But some legal experts said that it would carry important symbolic weight and help bolster future legal action against Russian leaders.

Harold Koh, a professor of international law at Yale University and a member of the Ukrainian delegation, urged the judges to order an injunction, arguing that failure to do so would threaten the post-World War II international legal order. “You have the means,” he said. “The world awaits your actions.”

The court is the latest international forum to take up Ukraine’s claims against Russia. Last week, the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority to condemn Russia’s invasion and demand an immediate withdrawal of its forces. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has also opened an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, although proceedings there could take years.

Legal experts say the strategy of Ukraine and its Western supporters is to deepen Russia’s isolation and prepare the ground for legal action against Russia in international institutions.

The most straightforward path would be to charge Russia with the crime of aggression — defined by the U.N. General Assembly as an attack by one state against the territory of another — but it cannot do so at the International Court of Justice without Russia’s consent. Instead, Ukraine’s representatives have focused on what they say is Russia’s false application of the Genocide Convention, to which both Ukraine and Russia are signatories.

Experts said it was significant that the normally slow-moving court had scheduled Monday’s hearings within a week of Ukraine’s request, suggesting it was under pressure to take quick action.

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