By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Russia called on the U.N.’s highest court in The Hague on Monday to throw out what it said was a “hopelessly flawed” case challenging Moscow’s argument that its invasion of Ukraine was carried out to prevent genocide.
The Russian request was made at the start of hearings dealing with the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court.
Moscow says Ukraine was using the case as a roundabout way to get a ruling on the overall legality of Russia’s military action. Experts say a ruling in Kyiv’s favour would not stop the war but could impact future reparation payments.
Ukraine brought the case days after the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 last year. Kyiv argues Russia is abusing international law by saying the invasion was justified to prevent an alleged genocide in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine says there was no risk of genocide in eastern Ukraine, where it had been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014, and that the genocide treaty does not allow an invasion to stop an alleged genocide.
Russian officials continue to accuse Ukraine of committinggenocide. On Monday, Russia repeated allegations that the “Russophobic and neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv” was using the United Nations’ 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both countries are a party, as a pretext to “drag” a case before the court.
The hearings, set to run until Sept. 27, will not delve into the merits of the case and are instead focused on legal arguments about jurisdiction. The convention defines genocide as crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”
“Ukraine insists no genocide has occurred,” Russia’s agent to the court, Gennady Kuzmin, said in opening remarks.
“That alone should be enough to reject the case. Because according to the court’s jurisprudence, if there was no genocide, there cannot be a violation of the Genocide Convention.”
Kuzmin concluded that “Ukraine’s legal position is hopelessly flawed and at odds with the long standing jurisprudence of this court” and called on the judges to dismiss the case.
On Tuesday, Ukraine will present arguments on why the court does have jurisdiction to have the case continue. The court will also hear from 32 other states, all supporting Ukraine’s argument that the court has jurisdiction to move the case forward on Wednesday.
Ukraine has already cleared one hurdle as the court decided in its favour in a preliminary decision in the case in March last year. Based on that, the court ordered Russia to cease military actions in Ukraine immediately.
Russia has so far ignored the ICJ’s orders to stop its military actions and the court has no way of enforcing its decisions but experts say they may have implications for compensation payments after the war.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alex Richardson, Philippa Fletcher and Bernadette Baum)
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