Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Russia asks UN high court to throw out genocide case

Kyiv has used a creative argument to bring a complaint against Moscow under the 1948 Genocide Convention — that Russia’s false accusation of genocide against Ukraine violates the treaty. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Russia and Ukraine returned to the United Nations' top court on Monday, kicking off two weeks of hearings over whether Moscow has violated a 70-year-old treaty against genocide. 

Lawyers for Russia claim the International Court of Justice does not have the jurisdiction to hear a novel legal argument from Ukraine: that Moscow’s false accusations of genocide as a pretext for the full-scale invasion of its neighbor are illegal under the 1948 Genocide Convention. 

The case is “hopelessly flawed,” Russia's representative, Gennady Kuzmin, told The Hague-based court. He claimed the Ukrainian government was a “Russia-phobic, neo-Nazi” regime whose “Western handlers” had stoked the conflict. 

Moscow says the "special military operation” was not an attempt to stop an ongoing genocide. Rather, Russia invaded Ukraine to protect itself. “The justification is Article 51 of the Charter,” Kuzmin said, referring to the foundational treaty of the U.N., which allows countries to engage in self-defense. 

In 2022, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russian aggression, calling it an “attempted illegal annexation.” 

Kyiv is not accusing Russia of committing genocide in these proceedings. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called the war a genocide against the Ukrainian people, as has U.S. President Joe Biden. 

The Russian legal team focused heavily on the lack of reference to armed conflict in the Genocide Convention, arguing that omission prevents the court from ruling on the war.

“The use of force is regulated by the U.N. Charter and customary international law, not by the convention," Alfredo Crosato Neumann, an attorney for Russia, told the 16-judge panel. "The Genocide Convention does not authorize, confer a right or impose an obligation to use force to prevent or punish genocide.”

Ukraine’s case has attracted worldwide support. Thirty-three countries have filed interventions in support of Kyiv, the most ever submitted in a case. The court accepted 32, rejecting the intervention from the United States on the grounds that it has a carve-out for part of the treaty. Judges will hear from the remainder of the countries later in the week. 

In March 2022, the court ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv had asked for emergency provisional measures in an effort to end hostilities. Russia refused to participate in oral arguments

The pair have proceedings ongoing at nearly every international tribunal available, stemming from the 2022 invasion and since hostilities began in 2014. In June, the court wrapped up hearings into separate allegations by Ukraine that Russia illegally financed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine and discriminated against non-Russians in the annexed Crimea region. 

Hearings will continue Tuesday with opening statements from Ukraine. 

Follow @mollyquell
Categories / International

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.