The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will in June 2023, hold hearings in a case in which Ukraine has accused the Russian Federation of violating two international conventions.
The hearings, scheduled from Tuesday, June 6 to Wednesday, June 14 in the Great Hall of Justice in the Peace Palace, the seat of the ICJ, in The Hague, the Netherlands, will deal with the merits of the proceedings that Ukraine instituted against its Eastern Europe neighbour on January 16, 2017, alleging that the Russian Federation violated the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 1999 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965.
Ukraine alleges that since a 2004 conflict over a presidential election, Russia has subjected it to increasing pressure and intimidation and, from 2014, escalated its interference in Ukrainian affairs to dangerous new levels by “intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine’s citizens, including, for all too many, their right to life”. It accuses Russia of instigating and sustaining an armed insurrection in eastern Ukraine against the authority of the Ukrainian state.
According to Ukraine, by its actions, Russia is in violation of fundamental principles of international law, including those enshrined in the Terrorism Financing Convention. Both Russia and Ukraine are parties to the two international treaties.
Furthermore, Ukraine contends that, in the autonomous republic of Crimea and in the city of Sevastopol, Russia has “brazenly defied the UN Charter, seizing a part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory by military force”.
Ukraine states that “in an attempt to legitimise its act of aggression, the Russian Federation engineered an illegal ‘referendum’ which it rushed to implement amid a climate of violence and intimidation against non-Russian ethnic groups”. According to Ukraine, this “deliberate campaign of cultural erasure, beginning with the invasion and referendum and continuing to this day”, violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
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Ukraine contends that Russia is supplying funds, weapons, and training to illegal armed groups that engage in acts of terrorism in Ukraine. One example mentioned is the notorious shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 283 passengers, mostly Dutch, and 15 crew on board. The plane, which was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by Russian-controlled forces on July 17, 2014, while flying over eastern Ukraine, which was in the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
On the claimed racial discrimination, Ukraine alleges that in occupied Crimea, Russia is “systematically discriminating against and mistreating the Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian communities, in furtherance of a state policy of cultural erasure of disfavoured groups perceived to be opponents of the occupation regime”. Russia is accused of “perpetrating and tolerating a campaign of disappearances and murders of Crimean Tatars” and “preventing Crimean Tatars from gathering to celebrate and commemorate important cultural events”.
The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic nation, an indigenous people of the Crimea peninsula, who were already discriminated against and persecuted in the Soviet Union. In 1944, Moscow ordered the deportation of all Tatars to Central Asia. Scores of Tatars lost their lives in the operation. In 1989 the Soviet Union granted them the right to return to their ancestral lands.
In its application, Ukraine also accuses Russia of “suppressing Ukrainian language education relied on by ethnic Ukrainians; preventing ethnic Ukrainians from gathering to celebrate and commemorate important cultural events; and silencing ethnic Ukrainian media”.
Ukraine asks the judges of the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN), to order Russia to stop violating the two international treaties and to pay reparations for the damage caused.
The ICJ deals with legal disputes between states, such as alleged treaty violations. The judgments of the ICJ have legally binding force for the parties to the case and are without appeal. The court, the only principal organ of the UN that does not have its seat in New York, is composed of 15 judges, elected by the Security Council and the General Assembly.
Russia has a judge on the bench, Kirill Gevorgian, who is currently also the vice-president of the court. As no Ukrainian national is on the bench, Ukraine had the right to send a judge ad hoc and selected Leonid Skotnikov. Joan E. Donoghue, a US national, currently presides over the ICJ.
The bench can decide unanimously or by majority. When the judgement is read out, it is publicly stated which judges voted for and against it. Judges can append dissenting opinions to the judgement, which are often interesting to read and can also give an idea of the conflicts during the confidential deliberations among the judges.
Apart from this case, Ukraine in 2022 filed another complaint against Russia at the ICJ, in the face of the full-blown war that broke out after the Russian invasion in February of that year. It accused its neighbour of contravening the Genocide Convention by wrongfully claiming genocide in Ukraine to justify its invasion of that country.
The ICJ deals with conflicts between states. Another international court in The Hague, the International Criminal Court (ICC), conducts criminal investigations and prosecutions against individual persons. The ICC announced in March that it had issued an arrest warrant for war crimes against Russian President Vladimir Putin and a high-ranking official in his government.
Apart from being neighbours, Russians and Ukrainians share a common religion (orthodox Christianity) and speak similar languages, both belonging to the East Slavic family. They share part of each other’s history. They each had their own republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which existed from 1922 until 1991. It was the largest country in the world, a transcontinental federation that covered large parts of Europe and Asia. The boundaries between the Soviet republics were not meant to become international borders. In 1954, Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in an act that was meant to change internal administrative borders within the Soviet Union.
After the USSR broke up peacefully at the end of 1991, its 15 constituent republics became sovereign independent states. Mikhail Gorbachev, who had peacefully accepted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, and the loss of Moscow’s post-WW II control of Eastern Europe as leader of the Warsaw Pact, lost his job as head of state of the biggest country in the world, as the USSR ceased to exist.
Russia and Ukraine kept looser ties within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional intergovernmental organisation that encourages cooperation on economic, political, and military matters.
However, relations between the two countries started to deteriorate with the Orange Revolution in 2004, when there was a conflict in Ukraine about who had won the presidential election between the pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who wanted to orient Ukraine towards the European Union (EU) and the capitalist military alliance of NATO, and the pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.