Russia’s Attacks on Ukraine are a Violation of International Law

By: Miriam Castillo

April 21, 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, a central and important tenet of the charter that requires U.N. member states to refrain from the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Vladimir Putin’s goal was to overrun Ukraine and depose its government, ending for good its desire to join the Western defensive alliance NATO.

Vladimir Putin has suggested that Russia’s use of force is justified under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Article 51 provides that “nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.” However, there is no support in fact or law in Putin’s suggestions because Ukraine did not commit or threaten to commit an armed attack against Russia or any other U.N. member state. Furthermore, Putin’s statements that Ukraine was committing “genocide” against Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk are also not supported by the facts and would not, in any case, give Russia a right to invade Ukraine.

Dontesk and Luhansk are southeastern regions of Ukraine, collectively known as Donbas. International law requires respect for territorial integrity of states and does not permit regions of states to declare independence and secede. Therefore, Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states goes against international laws governing state sovereignty and secession.

But the world has seen Russia act in this manner before in 2014, when it annexed Crimea after the region declared itself independent from Ukraine in a referendum. Still, the United States and most European countries refuse to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea and consider Russia to be unlawfully occupying a region of Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court has opened investigations regarding the possible war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russia. Ukraine has filed various claims against Russia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), including the allegation that Russia misinterpreted the Genocide Convention to justify the invasion of Ukraine. Putin and other Russian officials could face an investigation by the ICJ for war crimes committed during the invasion. Human Rights Watch has continued to document several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. Although Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ukraine has accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction for offenses that have occurred on its territory since 2013.

Very few governments and law experts believe that Russia’s actions are permissible under international law. International Institutions have begun responding to Russia’s violations of international law. Along with the financial sanctions imposed by the United States and various other states, Russia is likely to face global widespread condemnation and isolation from international bodies. The Council of Europe suspended Russia’s participation in its Committee of Ministers and its Parliamentary Assembly. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council voted on a binding resolution condemning the invasion and requiring Russia to cease its military actions and withdraw from Ukraine. But Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, vetoed the resolution.

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