Friday, September 29, 2023
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Russia urges UN high court to toss out Ukraine complaint

The warring countries are in the middle of two weeks of hearings over terrorism financing and discrimination claims dating back to 2014, prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Moscow told the World Court on Thursday it should toss out a complaint from Kyiv, claiming the case has no legal basis and Ukraine has no evidence to support its accusations.

Russia is fending off allegations that it illegally financed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine and discriminated against non-Russians in the annexed Crimea region before the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' highest court that is also known as the World Court.

The Hague-based court opened two weeks of hearings on Tuesday with opening statements from Ukraine. Russia presented its own on Thursday.

“Russia counts on the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Russian Ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin told the judges, saying his country has great respect for the court.

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’s legal team argued Thursday that the 1999 ICSFT, which criminalizes the financing of terrorist activities, requires violent outcomes to be the aim, not merely a by-product. 

"The perpetrator must have a specific intent that the funds will be used to commit crimes," said Michael Swainston, one of Russia’s lawyers. 

Swainston, who has previously represented Russia before the European Court of Human Rights and against the former shareholders of oil and gas giant Yukos, took the case over from prominent international lawyer Alain Pellet, who had long defended Moscow at the ICJ but dumped his client after the full-scale invasion began in 2022. 

Moscow then spent most of the morning rehashing arguments it has made at other venues about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, or MH17. The plane was shot out of the sky in 2014 over Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers on board. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement, but a Dutch court concluded last year the surface-to-air missile used to bring down the aircraft originated with the Russian army and the ECHR ruled in January that Russia had control of the region. 

Swainston seemed to misunderstand the Dutch court’s verdict, arguing it was based on international law. In fact, Dutch law gives the Netherlands the right to prosecute crimes that occur against its citizens abroad and outlawed attacking aircraft when it signed the Hague Hijacking Convention in 1970. 

“This is the ordinary Dutch legal system,” Marieke de Hoon, assistant professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam, told Courthouse News when the guilty verdict of three of the four men charged was announced in November 2022. 

The Russian delegation dismissed the findings of the five-country joint investigation team that looked into the disaster, which concluded that Russian-backed separatists transported the Buk TELAR missile over the border into Ukraine. 

Swainston said much of the open-source evidence used by investigators was merely from social media and dismissed the video evidence as the word of “propagandists.” He also criticized the work of investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat, which researched the disaster, calling it a “digital confection.” 

"This is what happens when you have to rely on conspiracy blogs for your evidence,” Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat's founder and creative director, said in an interview when asked about Russia’s claims. 

Moscow also took issue with Ukraine’s allegations that it is engaging in a systemic campaign of racial discrimination against non-Russians, including the Tartars, a Turkic-speaking people indigenous to eastern Ukraine. Instead, Russia claims it is Ukraine that is violating the 1965 CERD, which aims to end race-based mistreatment. 

"The reunification of Crimea with Russia has brought much good," Maria Zabolotskaya, Russia’s deputy permanent representative at the U.N., told the judges on Thursday, arguing living conditions on the peninsula have improved since Moscow annexed the region in 2014.

Zabolotskaya said that it was actually Ukraine that had been engaging in discrimination against Russian-speakers in the country. 

Hearings will continue next week with a response from Kyiv.

Follow @mollyquell
Categories / Civil Rights, Government, International, Politics

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