Ukraine said on Tuesday that the International Court of Justice should order Russia to pay reparations for its “annihilation war,” noting that international law itself was at risk.
“Russia is not above the law. It must be held accountable,” Ukraine’s lead speaker, Anton Korynevych, told the court, sitting just a few metres from his Russian opponents in the Peace Palace in The Hague.
“You have the power to declare that Russia’s actions are unlawful, that its continued abuses must stop, that your orders must be followed and that Russia must make reparations,” he told the judges.
Ukraine took Russia to the International Court of Justice only a few days after the 24 February 2022, invasion, aiming to confront its aggressive neighbour on all fronts, legal, diplomatic, and military.
The Ukrainian government claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin used alleged “genocide” against the pro-Russian population in eastern Ukraine as one of the justifications for Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.
According to Ukraine, this is a violation of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, which was signed by both Kyiv and Moscow.
“At our moment of greatest peril, Ukraine turned to this court. Your court has broad jurisdiction over disputes relating to the Genocide Convention,” argued Korynevych.
“Can it truly be the case that a state can abuse the Genocide Convention to justify a war of conquest?” asked Korynevych.
“It must be ‘no’ for the sake of the world, to prevent international law from being twisted into a tool for human rights abuses and destruction,” he added.
In a preliminary judgement issued in March of last year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) agreed with Ukraine and ordered Russia to immediately cease its invasion.
However, Russia protested the decision, claiming that the ICJ lacked the legal authority to rule in this instance.
“Russia’s defiance is also an attack on this court’s authority. Every missile that Russia fires at our cities, it fires in defiance of this court,” said Korynevych.
The current proceedings at the Peace Palace are centred on whether or not the ICJ has jurisdiction.
On Monday, Russia’s legal team urged that the lawsuit should be dismissed.
If Kyiv denies there is a genocide in eastern Ukraine, Moscow asks, why is the court even hearing a case under the Genocide Convention?
According to Russia’s lead representative Gennady Kuzmin, mere “statements” alleging genocide are not admissible under international law, including the Genocide Convention.
Ukraine’s legal position is “hopelessly flawed” and “at odds with the longstanding jurisprudence” of the court, he concluded.
Using longstanding Russian talking points, he also accused the Kyiv “regime” of being “firmly entrenched in the history, doctrines and practises of Nazism”, comments seized upon by Ukraine’s envoy.
“The (Russian) agent had the audacity to stand in this court and say that Ukraine was planning ‘final solutions’. We all know what those chilling words mean.
“How can Russia’s agent utter those words and then deny that there is a dispute about genocide?” said Korynevych.
In addition to the two fighting countries, 32 Ukrainian allies will speak in favour of Kyiv on Wednesday.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was established to settle disputes between countries, although it is not known for its pace of operation. The court will most certainly take months only to decide whether or not to hear the case.
Its decisions are legally binding, but there is no method to enforce them.