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Top UN court says it has jurisdiction in Ukraine genocide case

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The top court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruled Friday that it has jurisdiction in a case brought by Ukraine that accuses Russia of genocide and disputes a claim of genocide invoked by Moscow against Kyiv.

The court at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, tossed out a number of Russia’s objections to the case, ruling that there is a dispute over alleged violations of the genocide convention and it has jurisdiction to oversee the case.

But judges also decided against taking up whether Russia has committed genocide by invading Ukraine.

The ICJ ruled in favor of Russia on two matters: It would not decide whether Russia’s nearly 2-year-old invasion of Ukraine violates two articles of the genocide convention and that Russia’s recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk are also violations of the genocide convention.

“It is not the convention that the Russian Federation would have violated but the relevant rules of international law applicable to the recognition of states and the use of force,” ICJ President Joan Donoghue said.

However, the court said it was admissible for Ukraine’s request to move forward on a ruling that Kyiv did not commit genocide in two eastern regions of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, which it has accused Russia of using as a pretext to invade.

The ICJ handily dismissed a number of Russian objections to dismissing the case at large, as Moscow claimed the court did not have jurisdiction.

“It is not sufficient for the applicant to claim an alleged violation of the treaty and for the respondent to contest it. It must be ascertained whether the actions or omissions of the respondent complained of by the applicant fall within the scope of the treaty allegedly violated,” Donoghue said. “In other words, whether the facts of issue, if established, are capable of constituting violations of obligations under the treaty.”

Ukraine filed the ICJ case just days after Russia invaded the country in February 2022, sparking the largest land war in Europe since World War II and an ongoing conflict. Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists have also fought in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, which is at the center of this case.

Separately, the ICJ this week dismissed most of Ukraine’s terrorism case against Russia, which was filed in 2017 and accused Moscow of violating a United Nations anti-terrorism treaty by funding separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In that case, the court did rule that Russia violated its requirement to investigate the issue but declined Ukraine’s request for reparations and only said it must investigate the issue.

It also said Russia failed to protect the Ukrainian language in schools after annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

ICJ rulings are legally binding, but the court cannot enforce them. It can appeal to the U.N. Security Council, but permanent members like Russia have veto power there.

The ICJ in a preliminary ruling said Russia must halt its invasion of Ukraine, but Moscow dismissed the order.

A final ruling in the case could take years. The ICJ has never ruled an entire country has committed genocide before, though it is hearing other cases on the issue, including a dispute between South Africa and Israel over the war in Gaza.

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