This article titled “The Russo-Ukrainian War a Human Rights Crisis” is written by Aman Qureshi and Anil Kumar Ranjan, BA.LL.B student at IMS Unison University, Dehradun.
The Russo-Ukrainian War is an ongoing international dispute, between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, which dates to 2014 followed by various recurring events such as the Revolution of Dignity and the Russian annexation of Crime. Various developments in consideration of the dispute between the two parties took place with a major escalation of the crisis in March 2021, when Russia launched a full-fledged invasion of the state of Ukraine. The invasion is also called “crime of aggression” under “international criminal law”.
There were various historical and geopolitical reasons cited for the invasion of Ukraine, but this proposition shall mainly focus on the legalities of the war, and its consequence on the overall international law and the provisions followed and violated by the parties. The various documented international rules and regulations along with independent enquiry committees and tribunals and the findings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) shall be referred to.
According to a recent report published by the UN Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk, the civilian casualties surpassed 21,000 with 8,006 dead and 13, 287 wounded because of the aggression.
According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, (HRMMU), men accounted for 61.1% of confirmed civilian casualties and women 39.9% with at least 487 children dead and 954 injured. 18 million people were in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense estimated that the Russian forces have equally suffered up to approximately 200,000 casualties since the start of the invasion.
These figures are usually substantively higher and the number keeps fluctuating on both ends.
During the course of the war, various articles of the “Charter of the United Nations”, the constitutive instrument of the United Nations were violated as a sheer contravention of international law.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, a central element of the UN Charter, which states that “members shall refrain” “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. The compulsive and unnecessary force applied by the Russian Federation over the state of Ukraine and its citizens made the violation of the article possible.
Further, in the context of the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials justified the invasion under Article 51 of the UN charter which provided that “nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of an individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against any members of the United Nations”.
This justification apparently, carries no significance because Ukraine did not attack or threaten to attack Russia. Even when the Russian officials clarify that they could foresee Ukraine launching an attack against Russians in the Donbas region i.e., Donetsk and Luhansk, Article 51 would still not permit the attack because these are not independent states by themselves but are rather self-declared independent states of Russia.
The Russian Federation also alleged Ukraine committing “genocide” against Russians in the Donbas region. The entire definition as propounded in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide or rather the Genocide Convention has been severely misinterpreted.
The Genocide Convention describes genocide as certain, specified actions intended to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. There is little to no evidence stating that Ukraine was involved in any activity that could have suggested that it was trying to destroy Eastern Ukraine or the Russian settlers in and around the Donbas region. Furthermore, the acts committed by Russia in the state of Ukraine post falsified justification regarding the genocide could be cited as genocide, because the invasion attempted to destroy Ukraine and its people to dust, that too in large numbers with mala fide intention.
Even if the state of Ukraine, under any circumstantial evidence, would have committed any kind of alleged human rights abuse in the eastern part of Ukraine, the UN charter or any other international law would still not have allowed Russia to commit a full scale, pre-planned invasion as it has done.
Russia has been sanctioned in various arenas by the U.S. and its allies and has seemingly faced an increased backlash and condemnation by various countries and international institutions. Russia has been isolated from most geopolitical activities.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had also voted on a binding resolution condemning the Russian invasion and calling out Russia for its war crimes, through which Russia violated the Geneva Convention.
The UNSC voted on a binding resolution to cease the military action of Russia but was vetoed by Russia, being a permanent member of the UNSC.
Further, the UNSC proposed for a non-binding resolution calling on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to hold an Emergency Special Session(ESS) considering Russia’s actions.
Various articles concerning the Convention were violated which included Article 3 of the IV Geneva Convention, 1949, and Article 51,52 of the I Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention, which concerned with the killing of civilians and indiscriminate attacks on civilian objects. All these instances were seen in Chernihiv, underground torture chambers in Trostianets and in the occupied Kherson region.
Further, Article 27 of the IV Geneva Convention, 1949 was also violated, which dealt with the protection of women and their honor and dignity in cases of war. These included their protection against rape, forced prostitution or any other form of assault. The killings in Bucha exemplified the violation of the article.
Article 13 of the III Geneva Convention, 1949, was also violated which dealt with protection against torture and killings of prisoners of war, where there were instances of Russian soldiers cutting off the fingers of the Ukrainian POWs and shooting them from behind at the request of using the toilet.
Article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention, 1949 which protected civilians against illegally forced mass deportations from occupied territories, was also violated during the war, illustrations of which were shown in the incidents concerning forced deportations of 308 Ukrainians, from Mariupol to Far East of Russia, around 8000 km away from their homes.
Ukraine had also filed another claim in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that Russia had misinterpreted the Genocide Convention and had wrongfully invaded Ukraine under the pretext of Ukraine committing genocide.
ICJ is set to hear two claims, the other regarding Russia’s action in Crimea in 2017.
However, the ICJs jurisdiction is advisory in nature and not binding and this aspect carries great significance considering the Ukrainian state filing complaints in the court regarding as grave a matter as this.
Although Russia is not a signatory of the Rome Statute which established the foundation of the International Criminal Court, Ukraine has been accepting its jurisdiction since 2013.
Again, it must be noted that the jurisdiction of the ICC is advisory and non-binding on those countries which are not signatories to the Rome statute.
According to a recent development that took place, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 17, 2023, for alleged war crimes and unlawful deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
An arrest warrant was also issued against Russia’s Commissioner for Child Rights, Maria Lvov-Belova, a press release on the ICC website cited.
The Russo-Ukrainian conflict has caused a lot of destruction to the life and property on both sides and has tended to change the geopolitical dynamics at large. The war has led to a shift in power and has paved a way for new countries to replace the older countries and to aggravate their hegemony and dominance in the new post-war world creating different proxies altogether.
The Russo-Ukrainian war, therefore, has been a major landmark causing a geopolitical shift of world dominance. The international clout that Russia possessed before the war has in fact been negated and the sanctions imposed have been weighed on too heavily.
If Russia is going to be successful in its unprecedented invasion or if Ukraine and their Western alliance will be able to restrain Russia from doing so, remains still a significant question.
But the repercussions and the impact of the war, have been foreseen and shall be witnessed by us all and sundry.