What path did Ukraine take to prove that Russia is a violator of international law

Thursday, 1 February 2024

On the last day of January 2024, Ukraine heard the judgment on the merits in the first case against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Opinion has been polarised on this, but the international lawyers involved in the case insist that it is a win for Ukraine.

Read more about the path that Ukraine had to take to achieve this decision in the UN Court in the article by Anton Korynevych, Oksana Zolotarova, and Andrii Pasichnyk – Ukraine claims win over Russia: explaining UN court's ruling on Crimea and Donbas case.

On 31 January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a ruling in the case of Ukraine v. the Russian Federation regarding the application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (ICSFT) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). 

We refer to this case as The Big Case, both because it involves the violation of two UN conventions simultaneously, and considering the number of people involved and the volume of documents and evidence submitted to the Court.

In the ICJ verdict, Russia was found guilty of violating both Conventions. As a nice bonus, the Court also found Russia guilty of violating the mandatory order for the application of provisional measures.

Russia is a violator of international law. Now it’s official.

The Big Case was initiated in 2014 when Russia occupied Crimea and started its invasion of Donbas. 

Ukraine, however, focused on holding Russia accountable as a state.

In international law, the resolution of intergovernmental disputes is the responsibility of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, filing a complaint with the ICJ is not that simple.

Ukraine was obligated to resolve the dispute through negotiations. 

Between 2014 and 2016, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Russia over 80 diplomatic notes. Ukraine conducted seven rounds of negotiations just to make sure (and convince the Court) that Russia had no intention of settling the dispute through negotiations.

On 16 January 2017, Ukraine finally filed a complaint with the ICJ.

On 8 November 2019, Ukraine 'won jurisdiction', meaning it had successfully passed the first stage. 

At the time, Ukraine's entire complaint was purely speculative, because the ICJ had never considered anything similar. 

Ukraine became the first claimant in history to use the Terrorism Financing Convention for a complaint against another state. So it was unclear whether the Court was ready to consider such cases in general.

As for the Convention on Racial Discrimination, Georgia used it against Russia in 2008, being the first to do so. Russia though emerged victorious.

From 6 to 18 June 2023, during the oral hearings on the substance of the case, the Court heard a concentrated round of Russian propaganda about the 'Kyiv regime', 'tanks dug in coal mines in Donbas' and other blatant propaganda garbage, now with Chinese and Iranian accents.

And on 31 January 2024, the Court announced its ruling: a victory for Ukraine, not the last one.

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