The International Court of Justice is ruling Friday on whether it has jurisdiction to hear a case filed by Ukraine in the days after Russia’s invasion accusing Moscow of breaching the genocide convention.
In the highly-charged case, Kyiv claims that Russia breached the landmark 1948 convention by using trumped-up claims of genocide in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as a pretext for attacking Ukraine nearly two years ago. Ukraine also accuses Moscow of “planning acts of genocide.”
Moscow rejects the allegations and argued last year that the court should throw out the case before even considering the merits of Kyiv’s claims.
At hearings in September, the leader of Moscow’s legal team, Gennady Kuzmin, called Ukraine’s case “hopelessly flawed and at odds with the longstanding jurisprudence of this court.”
In order for the court to have jurisdiction, Ukraine has to establish that it has a dispute with Russia over the genocide convention.
A member of Moscow’s legal team, Sienho Yee, told judges in September that Russia had not used the genocide convention to justify its military actions in Ukraine, saying they “are based on the right to self-determination and its inherent right to self-defense.”
At the same hearings, Ukraine insisted the court has jurisdiction and slammed Moscow for openly flouting an interim order by the court to halt its invasion.
The court ordered Russia to stop military operations in Ukraine while the legal proceedings went forward during the war’s early weeks, in March 2022.
“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,” the leader of Ukraine’s legal team, Anton Korynevych, told the 16-judge panel.
Judges at the court rebuked Russia for its invasion on Wednesday as they ruled in another case between the two countries linked to attacks in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and discrimination in annexed Crimea.
If judges rule that they have jurisdiction in the genocide case, it will move in coming months to discussions of the merits of Ukraine’s arguments. A final, legally binding decision is likely still years away.
Ukraine’s case is based on the 1948 Genocide Convention, which both Kyiv and Moscow have ratified. The convention includes a provision that nations which have a dispute based on its provisions can take that dispute to the world court. Russia denies that there is a dispute, a position Ukraine rejects.
The convention and the Hague-based court came under intense scrutiny in recent weeks when South Africa filed a case accusing Israel of genocide in its devastating military operation in Gaza in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
In a preliminary ruling that did not address the merits of South Africa’s case, the court last week ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza.
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