Max Dowbenko joins JiC for this blog post on recognizing the Holodomor as a genocide and the link between doing so and addressing more recent atrocities in Ukraine. Max is a Trainee Solicitor with the UK Government Legal Department. He holds an MA in law from the University of Cambridge and an LLM in Public International Law from the University of Amsterdam
February 24, 2022, saw the full-scale invasion by Russia of Ukraine, and, with it, a new and far more uncertain era in global security and international law. This is not to say that the war in Ukraine is the only threat to territorial integrity and the use of force in this century – far from it. Other states, including those in the UN Security Council, have used force almost certainly illegally in recent times. However, this invasion marks the most significant threat to the international rules-based order since the end of the Cold War, not least because it involves an attempt by a major world power to annex territory from another state. Russia’s legal justification for invading Ukraine is extremely weak, and the genocidal rhetoric it has deployed extremely concerning. And this is not the first genocide committed by Moscow in Ukraine.
The invasion of Ukraine has been condemned by members of the international community as a crime of aggression, one of the four core crimes under International Criminal Law. A United Nations General Assembly Resolution demanded a full withdrawal of Russian forces, and the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to suspend military operations. A May 2022 report commissioned by the New Lines Institute in Washington and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in Montreal found that there were “reasonable grounds to conclude” that Russia is already in breach of two articles under the 1948 Genocide Convention: (1) the public incitement of genocide (Article III(c)), and (2) the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia (Article II(e)).
Russia’s war with Ukraine did not start in February: Ukraine has been at war with Russia for eight years, since the annexation of Crimea and initiation of hostilities in the Donbas in 2014. February marked a significant escalation in activities, however, with Russian armed forces invading openly on several fronts, rather than through the use of proxies. The aims of the Russian state have been unclear and subject to much scrutiny and hypothesizing. One of the key enabling factors of the invasion itself is a history of Russian impunity for breaches of international law. Russia’s permanent place on the UN Security Council means that Russia is largely sheltered from the effects of the international legal order. Even preceding its annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbas in 2014, Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008 and in Transnistria in the early 1990s were both illegal uses of force under international law with the pretense of protecting the Russian speaking or pro-Russian local population. Russia suffered no significant international consequences for these uses of force. This has had a two-fold effect: (i) facilitateing Russia’s ability and will to use violence to assert its influence in the former Soviet Union; and (ii) facilitateing the spread of Russian nationalism within Russian society, particularly through imperialism aimed at carving out a ‘greater Russia’ by force.Continue reading