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Ukraine fights at top UN court to end Russian invasion

Russia is boycotting the proceedings, which argue that it invented the claim of a genocide supposedly occurring in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to go to war. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Representatives for Ukraine appeared before the World Court on Monday, seeking an order for Russia to stop the ongoing invasion of its neighbor in Eastern Europe. Moscow has refused to participate in the proceedings. 

"I am here in the Great Hall of Justice while Ukraine is under attack," said Anton Korynevych, the permanent representative of the president of Ukraine in the autonomous republic of Crimea, who is Ukraine’s co-agent before the International Court of Justice. 

Ukraine asked The Hague-based court to intervene in the conflict last week, using the novel argument that Russia was violating the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Kyiv of committing genocide against Russian-speaking people in Eastern Ukraine. In a speech days before the large-scale invasion, President Vladimir Putin told his country: “We have to stop that atrocity.” 

Lawyers for Ukraine argued that there is no evidence of any genocide and that, by using the claim of genocide as a pretext for the invasion, Russia has itself violated the convention. “Russia knows international law matters. Why else would they try to justify their aggression?” Jean-Marc Thouvenin, professor of law at the University of Paris Nanterre, told the court. 

Moscow, meanwhile, has snubbed the proceedings. “The court regrets the non-appearance of the Russian Federation in these oral proceedings,” court president Joan Donoghue said at the start of the hearing. The Russian ambassador to the Netherlands, Gilles Beschoor Plug, informed the court over the weekend that it would not be participating in the hearing. According to court rules, the proceedings can move forward regardless of Moscow’s involvement. "

The ICJ has no enforcement capacity so, even in the event of that Ukraine secures provisional measures, experts say the victory will only be symbolic. Ukraine nevertheless appeared undeterred. "They need to listen and they must listen to the court under international law," Korynevych, Ukraine’s agent, told reporters after the hearing.

According to Korynevych, Ukraine has been engaging in a “lawfare” strategy. “While Russia fights with warfare, we fight with lawfare,” he said. Kyiv has filed complaints and beseeched several courts for investigations, including the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. The ICC, the world’s only permanent court for war crimes, received a record number of referrals to investigate the matter last week and has already sent a team of investigators to Ukraine. Over a year ago, the ICC documented its initial findings that crimes against humanity, including crimes in Crimea, had been committed in Ukraine. 

Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine since 2014 have been the object of an ongoing ICJ investigation. In 2019, the court found that jurisdiction and has asked both countries to submit pleadings. One of Russia’s counsel in that case, Alain Pellet, announced in a statement last week that he was resigning. “It has become impossible to represent in forums dedicated to the application of the law a country that so cynically despises it,” he wrote. Outside of the court, dozens of people gathered to protest the war. Over the weekend, some 2,000 people gathered in the city to demand Putin stop the war. 

“In this difficult moment, I am compelled to remind the court of the real human stakes of Ukraine's requests,” Oksana Zolotaryova, of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in her closing statement at the end of the hearing. The court said it will announce its ruling on provisional measures in due course. 

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