Last year, on November 8, 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that it indeed has jurisdiction to hear Ukraine’s case against Russia regarding Moscow’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The court rejected Russia’s claims that the court lacks jurisdiction in the proceedings instituted by Ukraine on the basis of both the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (ICSFT) and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (known as CERD), and found that it has jurisdiction to hear Ukraine’s claims made on the basis of both conventions. The court’s judgement is “final, without appeal and binding on the parties,” the ICJ stated in a news release.
The ICJ, with its seat at The Hague in the Netherlands, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with judges elected to the court for nine-year terms by the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council. The court’s role is described as twofold: “to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by states” and “to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by duly authorized United Nations organs and agencies of the system.”
Ukraine filed its case against Russia with the ICJ on January 16, 2017. RFE/RL reported: “Kyiv alleges Moscow has breached a treaty on terrorism financing by arming and supporting pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Kyiv has also charged that Russia-installed authorities have been suppressing the rights of ethnic Tatars and other minorities since Russia occupied and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Olena Zerkal, who led Ukraine’s delegation to the ICJ said the ruling was both “a great victory for Ukraine” and “a victory of the rule of law,” adding, “We can move forward and [present] all arguments at the court and for the international community concerning violations which [took place] on Ukrainian soil. …That means that Russia will be accountable.”
The ICJ ruling also meant that details of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) case will be aired during Ukraine’s arguments. Russia, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, had vetoed an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for MH17’s downing. However, “this court will hear this case and it might be that it will have an influence on the Russian position in the Security Council and that we will achieve justice,” Ms. Zerkal explained.
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reacted to the news with confidence that the ICJ will “eventually reject all of Ukraine’s claims.”
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and Ukraine’s Embassy in the U.S. hailed the court’s ruling. “This is a major step toward protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy, and holding Russia accountable for its actions,” the U.S. Embassy wrote via Twitter.
The ICJ, The Ukrainian Weekly’s editorial noted, moves slowly, and a verdict was expected no earlier than 2022. Additional crimes by Russia and its proxies in eastern Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea were expected to continue while a verdict was awaited.
However, hope remained that Ukraine’s successful use of international law in its fight against Russia will strengthen Kyiv’s position on the international arena at this critical time of negotiations regarding Crimea and the Donbas.
In July 2020, the ICJ ordered that the time limit for the filing of the Counter-Memorial of the Russian Federation in the case would be extend from December 8, 2020, to April 8, 2021, citing restrictions due to COVID-19 that “had led to ongoing difficulties and related delays in the preparation of that pleading.”
Ukraine’s delegation filed an opposition to the extension of the time limit for filing, “explaining that the coronavirus-related restrictions currently in place did not justify the extension requested, and that an extension would be severely prejudicial to Ukraine and would unduly delay the resolution of the case by the Court.”
Source: “At the International Court of Justice,” The Ukrainian Weekly, November 17, 2019.