Ukraine addressed the UN’s highest court on Monday to reject as a “grotesque lie” Russia’s claims that genocide has been committed in eastern Ukrainian oblasts, or regions, before calling for emergency measures to halt Russian aggression.
The development at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came on day 12 of the crisis in Ukraine, where more than 1.5 million refugees have sought shelter across the country’s borders and where cities have been surrounded by Russian forces and civilians are subject to indiscriminate shelling.
“Let us settle our dispute like civilized nations. Lay down your arms and put forward your evidence,” said Anton Korynevych, Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine, in his opening address.
“Ukraine respects this court and follows its orders. Russia must as well,” he added. “But if Russia will not return to international law on its own, the court has the power to act. With respect, the court has responsibility to act.”
Direct violation of international law
Also representing Ukraine at the world court in The Hague, international lawyers argued that the Russian offensive was in direct violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention – and that its actions had reduced the global treaty to “confetti”, despite having signed the text.
Russia’s claim that it was duty-bound to intervene to prevent the massacre of people in Donetsk and Luhansk was “absurd”, they maintained- before a row of empty Russian seats -noting that Russia had not provided any proof to back up its allegations of genocide against nearly four million people in Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk.
Unfounded Donbass allegations
Citing violence in the eastern oblasts dating back to 2014, the court heard that international monitoring missions there had reported a dramatic drop in the number of casualties in recent years.
“It would be an understatement to say that Russia has provided no evidence for genocide in the course of this conflict,” said David Zionts, for Ukraine.
“The closest President Putin has come to even explaining his allegation of genocide is to assert as he did on 21 February of this year, and I quote, ‘Not a single day goes by without Donbass communities coming under shelling attacks’, end quote. This is another flagrant lie, for which Russia has offered no support.”
Addressing a 10-strong panel of judges in the Great Hall of Justice, Mr. Zionts insisted that Russia’s narrative was based on “forgeries, fakes and distortions…The consequences are unprovoked aggression, cities under siege, civilians under fire, a humanitarian catastrophe and people fleeing for their lives”.
Sounding the alarm
They were responsible for a “rise in intimidation, harassment and killings” and a “reign of intimidation and terror” to maintain their position in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Zionts said, referring to a report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).
“Then, as now, Russia’s aggression is based on lies”, he continued, adding that although the death of every single civilian on both sides of the contact line was a tragedy, “to claim that Ukraine targets civilians is to distort facts”.
“If there were attacks on civilians, rising to the level of genocide, allegedly warranting an armed invasion, one would think that there must have been a massive recent escalation in civilian casualties at the least. But that is transparently not the case,” he added.
The International Court of Justice is scheduled to hear Russia’s response to Ukraine’s Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on Tuesday 8 March. Proceedings begin at 10am CET and can be followed at webtv.un.org.