ICJ rules that it will hear part of Ukraine-Russia genocide case

UN’s top court will not address aspects of case accusing Russia of violating Genocide Convention by falsely alleging genocide.

The ICJ will proceed in assessing whether Ukraine committed genocide in Donetsk and Luhansk [Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]Published On 2 Feb 20242 Feb 2024

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that parts of Ukraine’s case against Russia arguing that Moscow baselessly accused Kyiv of genocide to justify the 2022 invasion can move forward.

However, the ICJ ruled on Friday that it will not address whether Russia violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by using what Ukraine says were trumped-up genocide charges as a pretext for the war, even if the invasion may have violated international law broadly.

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Instead, the case will proceed to assess whether Ukraine committed genocide in the eastern parts of the country, as Russia claims – a matter where judges ruled that they have jurisdiction.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24, 2022, part of his argument was that pro-Russian people in eastern Ukraine had been “subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime”.

Ukraine filed a suit at the ICJ, “emphatically denying” this and arguing that Russia’s use of “genocide” as a pretext for invasion went against the Genocide Convention.

“In the present case, even if the Russian Federation had, in bad faith, alleged that Ukraine committed genocide and taken certain measures against it under such a pretext, which the respondent [Ukraine] contends, this would not in itself constitute a violation of obligations” under the genocide convention, the ICJ said in the ruling read out by its president, Joan Donoghue on Friday.

The ICJ, known as the World Court, said it did not have jurisdiction to rule on whether Russia’s invasion violated the Genocide Convention, or on whether Moscow’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine, amounted to a breach of the convention.

But the judges said they would allow Ukraine’s request for the court to rule that there was no “credible evidence that Ukraine is committing genocide in violation of the Genocide Convention” in eastern Ukraine.

Kyiv is seeking a declaration from the ICJ that it did not commit genocide. A final, legally binding decision is likely still years away.


Before Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Ukraine had been battling Russian-backed separatist forces in the east of the country since 2014. But Kyiv insists that there was no risk of genocide there.

As well as citing an alleged “genocide” against the Russian-speaking residents of Donetsk and Luhansk to justify its invasion, Moscow also invoked NATO’s eastward expansion as one of the reasons behind the conflict.

Triestino Mariniello, a law professor at Liverpool John Moores University, said Friday’s ruling is important because it moves the case to the merits stage.

“It has confirmed that there is a dispute between Russia and Ukraine in relation to the application, interpretation and fulfilment of the Genocide Convention, and that the court has jurisdiction in particular in establishing in the merits case that Ukraine has not committed genocide in this specific areas of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukrainian territory,” Mariniello told Al Jazeera.

Last month, the ICJ dismissed large parts of a Ukraine petition accusing Russia of “terrorism”.

In March 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the UN’s top court ordered Moscow to halt its military offensive.

But while the court’s decisions are legally binding, it lacks an enforcement mechanism.

“It’s upon individual states – in this case Russia – or international organisations like the [UN] Security Council to implement such decisions or judgements,” Mariniello said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies