Thursday June 30, 2022

War crimes

May 02, 2022

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its intervention on that country’s internal affairs constitute a serious breach of international law. According to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, “War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that the crime of aggression is one of the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community,” and provides that the crime falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As of November 2019, 123 states are parties to the Statute of the Court. Four of these signature states – the United States, Russia, Israel, and Sudan – have informed the UN Secretary General that they no longer intend to abide by the laws of the Statute, and therefore have no legal obligations arising from their signature.

Current Russian military actions in Ukraine are clear violations of the Geneva Convention of 1949, particularly its attacks against civilians who are not participating in hostilities. The Russian army has blockaded thousands of Ukrainian civilians in the basements on churches, theaters, and subway stations in conditions of near starvation. The 1949 Geneva Conventions have been ratified by all Member States of the United Nations, which are then bound by its tenets.

In 1965, the UN General Assembly issued a Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Domestic Affairs of States (UNGA resolution 2131). According to that declaration, “no state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state… and no state shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed toward the violent overthrow of another state, or interfere in civil strife in another state.” Even before launching its armed aggression, Russia had conducted a campaign of cyberattacks against critical Ukrainian infrastructures.

The UN General Assembly resolutions, however, are considered recommendations and are not, therefore, legally binding. The principle of non-intervention was alleged in the case of Nicaragua v. United States, following the US support for the ‘contras’ fighting the Nicaraguan government and the mining of Nicaraguan harbors.

The case was decided in 1986 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ruled in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States, and awarded reparations to the Nicaraguan government. According to the ICJ, the actions of the US against Nicaragua violated international law. The US resisted participating in the proceedings after the Court rejected its argument that the ICJ lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

Excerpted: ‘Prosecute Russian and Other Powerful Countries’ War Crimes’.