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The UN’s highest court on Wednesday ordered Russia to stop hostilities in Ukraine, granting measures requested by Kyiv, although many are sceptical that Russia will comply.
Two weeks ago Ukraine asked the International Court of Justice – also known as the World Court – to intervene, arguing Russia breached the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of committing genocide and using that as a pretext for the invasion.
“The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the special military operations it commenced on 24 February 2022,” the court’s president, US judge Joan Donoghue, said. Countries that refuse to abide by court orders can be referred to the UN Security Council, on which Russia holds veto power.
Still, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed it as a major victory.
“Ukraine gained a complete victory in its case against Russia at the International Court of Justice,” he wrote on Twitter.
“The ICJ ordered to immediately stop the invasion. The order is binding under international law. Russia must comply immediately. Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further.”
He was equally emphatic when beseeching the US lawmakers to do more to protect Ukraine’s skies in a live video address to the US Congress on Wednesday.
Moscow snubbed a hearing last week, when lawyers for Ukraine told the court that Russia had started an “unprovoked aggression”.
“Cities under siege, civilians under fire, humanitarian catastrophe and refugees fleeing for their lives,” said David Zionts, a member of Ukraine’s legal team.
In written arguments submitted later in the week, Russia argued in writing that The Hague-based court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and that nothing in the convention forbade the use of force.
In a 13-2 decision, the court also told Moscow to ensure military units “take no steps” to further the conflict, which Russia refers to as a “special military operation”. The Russian and Chinese judges dissented.
The bar for granting provisional measures is low, says Melanie O’Brien, an associate professor of international law at the University of Western Australia and an expert on the Genocide Convention.
“The court was not being asked to make a decision on the real crux of the case,” she said before the ruling was made.
In January, the court ordered Myanmar to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people, a mostly Muslim minority group persecuted in the country for years. As with Wednesday’s decision, the court also ordered Myanmar to preserve evidence of any crimes and submit regular reports to the court.
Earlier on Wednesday, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, met President Zelenskyy in a surprise meeting. The pair discussed the court’s ongoing investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. While the ICJ can hold states responsible, the International Criminal Court could prosecute individuals.
In the days since the March 7 hearing, Russia has intensified its military strikes on Ukrainian towns and cities, hitting civilian infrastructure, including a deadly strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, and sending more than three million refugees fleeing across borders.