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In latest legal clash, Ukraine calls Russia a ‘terrorist state’ at UN high court

The International Court of Justice hearings are not related to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but rather focus on claims that Moscow illegally financed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine and discriminated against non-Russians in the annexed Crimea region.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Ukraine and Russia returned to the United Nations' highest court on Tuesday for the opening day of hearings over claims that Russia repeatedly violated international law in border regions, just as Kyiv accused Moscow of destroying a major dam. 

The Hague-based International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is holding two weeks of hearings stemming from accusations that the Kremlin fueled a campaign of intimidation and terror while illegally occupying parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. 

“The past is prologue,” Ukraine’s ambassador-at-large Anton Korynevych told the U.N.’s top court, arguing that Russia’s activities nearly a decade ago were a harbinger of the full-scale invasion that has been raging for more than a year. 

Ukraine first filed suit against Russia in 2017, claiming Moscow violated both the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, or ICSFT, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, abbreviated as CERD.

After a week of hearings, judges ruled in 2019 that the court had jurisdiction to take the dispute. 

“Russia cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, so Moscow turns instead to destroying infrastructure and killing civilians,” Korynevych told the judges in the Peace Palace's Great Hall of Justice. As the hearing was starting, Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of destroying a dam that is part of a major hydroelectric power station in southern Ukraine. Korynevych described Russia's actions as that "of a terrorist state."

The International Court of Justice complaint is one of many attempts by Ukraine has made to bring Russia to justice at international courts across the world. Earlier this year, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights accepted three cases alleging Moscow has been committing human rights violations in eastern Ukraine since 2014, including the downing of passenger jet Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, also known as MH17. 

Kyiv has another case pending before the World Court based on the ongoing war, and also has a case against Russia at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also called on the international community to create a new court that would prosecute the act of invasion itself. 

In addition, the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of his deputies for kidnapping children from Ukraine and taking them to Russia. 

According to Ukraine, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Moscow began engaging in a systemic campaign of racial discrimination against non-Russians, including the Tartars, a Turkic-speaking people indigenous to the region. Kyiv argues the policies and acts of Russia on the peninsula violate the first U.N. human rights treaty, the 1965 CERD, which aims to end race-based mistreatment. 

Lawyers for Ukraine say Crimea was just the first step towards erasing the entire nation.

“Russia does not just bomb and shell. It does not just tolerate and support those who terrorize the Ukrainian people. It is pursuing a long-term project to erase the rights and culture that make Ukraine a proud, multi-ethnic nation,” said Harold Koh, a former State Department legal adviser in the Obama administration who is now representing Ukraine. 

Kyiv also wants Russia to be held to account for financially supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, who ultimately declared breakaway states unrecognized by the international community. Under the ICSFT, states have an obligation to prosecute anyone involved in providing material support to terrorists. 

Ukraine argued that Russia is liable for the violence perpetrated by the groups operating in the region, including the downing of MH17. The passenger airline was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. All 298 people on board were killed. 

Last year, The Hague District Court convicted three men – all involved in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – of downing the Boeing 777. The trial was conducted in absentia and the men all remain at large.

"The DPR had no legal authority to fire weapons in Ukraine," said lawyer David Zionts, citing the Dutch court ruling as well as a decision from the European Court of Human Rights that Russia had control of the region. 

The rights court issued a ruling on Tuesday in another case involving Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, slamming Moscow for failing to investigate his 2020 poisoning. He fell ill while on a flight in Russia and was evacuated to Germany for treatment. The 47-year-old dissident was arrested immediately upon his return to Russia in 2021 and has been jailed ever since.  

Hearings will resume on Thursday, when Russia will present its opening arguments.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, International, Politics

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