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False genocide allegations, an aggressive war and the ICJ’s role

Ukraine has filed an innovative claim against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Ukraine asked the court to rule that it has not committed genocide and that a war initiated based on a false genocide claim was unlawful. Larissa van den Herik, Professor of Public International Law, discussed this on NOS’ daily radio programme 'Met het oog op morgen'.

The ‘Russian world’ doctrine

Van den Herik says that in the run-up to the 2022 invasion, Russia declared that it wanted to protect all ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine from genocide committed by Ukraine, referring to the ‘Russian world’ doctrine. Putin himself accused Ukraine of committing genocide in an attempt to justify the 24 February invasion.

False allegations

However, Ukraine is now asking the Court to rule that these allegations were completely false, that it did not commit genocide and that Russia was therefore spreading falsehoods in order to legitimise its own war. The questions put to the Court were, firstly, whether Ukraine's claims are within the Court's jurisdiction and, secondly, whether the Court is open to hearing this new claim. This kind of case has never previously been filed, and Van den Herik says that it would therefore be a very significant ruling for both Ukraine and international law as a whole.

Crimes against humanity

During the interview, it was mentioned that the Genocide Convention is a factor in many cases that are currently pending before the Court. Van den Herik agreed that the Convention provides access to the Court, hence why it is being invoked. However, Ukraine also wants to use this case to raise the issue of Russian aggression. The Court has no jurisdiction over cases concerning other criminal acts such as crimes against humanity. Van den Herik says that the current problem is that there is no convention similar to the Genocide Convention relating to the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.

In April, various states will hold discussions in New York on whether to launch negotiations on the conclusion of this kind of treaty in the future. The treaty would allow cases concerning crimes against humanity to be brought before the Court. Although this process is slow and subject to political wrangling, Van den Herik says that she ‘expects it to get the go-ahead eventually’.

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