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UN’s top court says it will hear part of Ukraine-Russia genocide case

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s Director General for International Law Oksana Zolotaryova and Ambassador-at-large Anton Korynevych sit as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (REUTERS)
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s Director General for International Law Oksana Zolotaryova and Ambassador-at-large Anton Korynevych sit as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (REUTERS)

The UN’s top court has ruled that it will hear a case in which Ukraine has asked it to declare its forces did not commit genocide in eastern Ukraine – claims used by Vladimir Putin as pretext for his invasion.

In the highly-charged case, Kyiv says Moscow breached a 1948 convention by using trumped-up claims of genocide in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Ukraine also accuses Moscow of "planning acts of genocide."

Ukraine brought the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) days after 24 February 2022, when the full-scale invasion began. The court already issued emergency measures in March 2022 in this case ordering Russia to immediately halt its war in Ukraine.

On Friday, judges found the court had jurisdiction to hear just a small part of the original case. The judges threw out a request by Ukraine to rule on whether or not the Russian invasion violated the Genocide Convention.

Ukraine has argued there was no risk of genocide in eastern Ukraine, where it had been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014.

Russian representatives Gennady Kuzmin (L) and Konstantin Kosorukov failed to convince the ICJ not to allow a Ukrainian case against Moscow (ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian representatives Gennady Kuzmin (L) and Konstantin Kosorukov failed to convince the ICJ not to allow a Ukrainian case against Moscow (ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

More than two dozen European states, as well as Australia and Canada, have backed Kyiv by giving formal statements to the court, stressing they believe the case should move forward.

While the court’s rulings are final and legally binding, it has no way to enforce them and some states, like Russia, have ignored rulings.

Earlier this week, Ukraine had a small victory at the ICJ when the judges ruled Russia had violated UN treaties against the financing of terrorism and discrimination in a different case that dealt with incidents from 2014.

Friday’s rulings comes just a week after the ICJ heard South Africa’s case alleging that Israel had committed genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

The court on 26 January issued what it called “emergency measures” urging Israel to prevent any acts of genocide during its war in the enclave.

A final ruling in both the South Africa case against Israel and the Ukraine case against Russia could take years.

The ICJ said it did not have jurisdiction in other aspects of Ukraine’s case, including claims that Russia’s invasion violated the Genocide Convention.

Reuters contributed to this report