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Russia urges top U.N. court to toss out Ukraine’s case seeking to halt Moscow’s war

Peace Palace in The Hague, which houses the  International Court of Justice
The Peace Palace, in The Hague, houses the International Court of Justice.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)
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Calling it an “abuse of process,” Russia sought Monday to have judges at the United Nations’ highest court throw out a Ukrainian case alleging that Moscow abused the international convention on genocide to justify its invasion last year.

As a series of lawyers laid out Moscow’s objections to the case, the leader of Russia’s legal team at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Gennady Kuzmin, told the 16-judge panel that Ukraine’s case seeking to halt the invasion “is hopelessly flawed and at odds with the long-standing jurisprudence of this court.”

He said Ukraine’s filing is “a manifest disregard of the proper administration of justice and constitutes an abuse of process.”

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Ukraine’s case, filed shortly after Russia invaded Feb. 24, 2022, argues that the attack was based on false claims of acts of genocide by Kyiv in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine and alleges that Moscow was itself planning genocidal acts in Ukraine.

Ukraine alleges that “Russia has turned the Genocide Convention on its head — making a false claim of genocide as a basis for actions on its part that constitute grave violations of the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine.”

Lawyers for Russia insist that the court does not have jurisdiction and that the treaty on genocide cannot be used to regulate use of force by nations. Ukraine’s legal team will respond Tuesday and urge judges to press ahead with hearings on the substance of its claims.

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In his opening speech, Kuzmin reiterated Russian claims of “neo-Nazis” in charge in Kyiv and drew parallels between Russia’s invasion and the 1999 NATO airstrikes on Serbia aimed at halting Belgrade’s military campaign in Kosovo.

Ukraine brought the case to the International Court of Justice based on the 1948 Genocide Convention, which both Moscow and Kyiv have ratified. In an interim ruling in March 2022, the court ordered Russia to halt hostilities in Ukraine, a binding legal ruling that Moscow has ignored as it presses ahead with its devastating attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities.

Another lawyer for Russia, Sienho Yee, told judges that Russia had not used the Genocide Convention to justify its military actions in Ukraine, saying they “are based on the right to self-determination and its inherent right to self-defense.”

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In an unprecedented show of international support for Kyiv, 32 of Ukraine’s allies, including Canada, Australia and every European Union member nation except Hungary, will make statements Wednesday in support of Kyiv’s legal arguments. The United States asked to make legal arguments on Ukraine’s behalf, but the U.N. court’s judges rejected the U.S. request on a technicality.

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The court’s panel of international judges will likely take weeks or months to reach a decision on whether the case can proceed. If it does, a final ruling is probably years away.

The International Court of Justice hears disputes between nations over matters of law, unlike the International Criminal Court, also based in The Hague, which holds individuals criminally responsible for offenses such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC has issued a war crimes arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for the abduction of Ukrainian children.

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