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Ukraine turns Putin’s rhetoric back on Russia in second day of hearings in genocide case  

“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years,” the Russian president said in a televised address the day after launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, explaining why he had started the so-called special military operation. 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The United Nations' top court heard opening statements from Ukraine on Tuesday, with Kyiv calling Moscow’s pretext for invading its neighbor a “lie” that violates a 70-year-old treaty against genocide. 

“Russia is waging war against my country because of this terrible lie,” Anton Korynevych, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Netherlands, told the 16-judge panel at the International Court of Justice in his opening remarks. 

His country is making a novel legal argument at the court: that Moscow’s false accusations of genocide as a pretext for the full-scale invasion are illegal under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Kyiv is not accusing Russia of committing genocide in these proceedings.

Korynevych referred to a quote from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who justified the invasion by saying he was stopping a genocide.

“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years,” Putin said in a televised address in February 2022, explaining what he called a “special military operation.” 

Nearly all of Ukraine’s legal team would go on to highlight the statement. 

Ukraine filed a complaint at The Hague-based court just days after Russian tanks rolled over the border in February 2022, calling for an end to hostilities and demanding reparations, but Moscow argued on Monday that the top U.N. court does not have jurisdiction. 

In its arguments in the first day of hearings, Russia claimed Ukraine had failed to properly inform its warring neighbor that the pair had a dispute, as required by the post-war treaty. But Ukraine’s legal team was unimpressed with the argument. 

"The court looks objectively at the facts. The court looks at, at the time of the application, if a dispute existed between the parties,” lawyer for Ukraine Marney Cheek told the court. She pointed out it was clear that the countries, which have been fighting an active war for the past 18 months, had a dispute. 

Russia also argued the court should chuck out the complaint as Ukraine’s innovative interpretation of the convention created a legal obligation that did not exist. Lawyer for Ukraine Harold Koh argued that the treaty gives judges the discretion to adjudicate “the widest range of disputes.” 

Koh invited the judges to allow Russia to make its arguments later during the merits phase instead. 

Ukraine also criticized Russia for ignoring the court’s existing orders. 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 and has clearly not complied with the demand to end the conflict. 

“This is not some kind of advice,” Korynevych told reporters following the hearing. He stressed that the order to halt the invasion was legally binding and Russia should comply. 

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. 

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 on Wednesday.

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