Ukraine Asks World Court To Intervene In Russia Conflict

Law360 (February 28, 2022, 6:49 PM EST) -- Ukraine has requested an urgent decision from the International Court of Justice ordering Russia to halt all military action after its invasion last week, arguing that the Kremlin is violating a decades-old anti-genocide treaty.

Ukraine officially kicked off the proceeding on Saturday, accusing Russia of using false accusations of genocide in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to justify its invasion into the country on Feb. 24. The resulting conflict has caused "grave and widespread" violations of the human rights of the Ukrainian people, Kyiv told the court.

The country argued that it "emphatically denies" that any genocide has occurred, and it asked the ICJ to find that Russia's actions are illegal.

"Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression," Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday on Twitter. "We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week."

Kyiv claims that Russia's actions violate the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, also known as the Genocide Convention. The country, which has enlisted the help of Covington & Burling LLP in the case, maintains that Russia has no lawful basis for its actions.

Russian representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

The case comes as Russia faces condemnation from the international community over its actions, though it's unclear whether any potential ruling from the ICJ will have a concrete effect on the conflict.

Back in 2016, an international tribunal sided with the Philippines in a territorial dispute with China over maritime rights in the South China Sea. But Beijing has refused to comply with the ruling. As recently as January, the U.S. Department of the State issued a study calling China's claims to the South China Sea "plainly inconsistent" with international law.

Still, it's not the first time that Ukraine has invoked international law against the Kremlin. Following Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Kyiv and several Ukrainian investors launched a series of proceedings seeking compensation for resources that were taken without compensation.

The tribunals have ruled against Russia in a number of instances. In early 2020, a tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rejected many of Russia's jurisdictional objections to Ukraine's allegations that Moscow has stolen its energy and fisheries resources in the waters surrounding Crimea.

In 2019, a Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal rejected Russia's request to reconsider its decision that it had unlawfully expropriated investments held in Crimea by Ukraine's largest commercial bank following the takeover. Both proceedings remain pending.

A separate PCA tribunal that same year ordered Russia to pay Ukraine's largest oil company $44.4 million for forcibly seizing its offices and petrol stations in Crimea shortly after the annexation.

In 2018, meanwhile, a PCA tribunal unanimously awarded about $159 million to a group of real estate investment companies that owned properties in Crimea that were expropriated by Russia. Russia did not participate in that proceeding because it refused to recognize the tribunal's jurisdiction.

The properties at issue included several high-end resorts on the Black Sea coast, as well as hotels, industrial properties and offices, all of which had been improperly nationalized without compensation by decree of the new government installed in Crimea shortly after Russian troops entered the country.

Ukraine is represented before the ICJ by Marney Cheek, Jonathan Gimblett, David Zionts, Clovis Trevino, Vlad Shkilevych, Jill Warnock, and Paul Strauch of Covington & Burling LLP, along with Professors Harold Hongju Koh of Yale Law School and Jean-Marc Thouvenin of Paris-Nanterre University. It is represented internally by Anton Korynevych, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and by Oksana Zolotaryova, Director of the International Law Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

--Editing by Ellen Johnson.

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