The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has now ordered Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February.” This was in response to an application that the Ukraine filed against Russia on 26 February, concerning the interpretation of the Genocide Convention. More specifically, the Ukraine argued that Russia falsely accused Kiev of committing acts of genocide against ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk. This being Putin’s justification for their military operation in Ukraine, Zelenskyy argued that the invasion is unjust. Will Putin listen?
What is the ICJ? The ICJ is the main judicial arm of the United Nations (UN) established in 1945. The Hague-based court is responsible for settling legal disputes submitted by states in accordance with international law.
What is the relevance of the ruling?
The court’s decision is binding. However, it has no means of enforcement, much like its parent organisation, the UN. And so, were Russia to ignore this order, there would be no repercussions from the ICJ. It not having a police force, or army, any level of enforcement beyond political pressure becomes impossible. In the past, some countries have in fact ignored the ICJ’s ruling. For example, in 2018, the US rejected an ICJ ruling that American sanctions must allow exemptions for exports of humanitarian and civil aviation supplies to Iran. Looking a bit further into the past, in 1986, the US chose not to submit itself in the jurisdiction of the ICJ in relation to the Nicaraguan case. The US has not been the only deviant. Israel chose to ignore the ICJ’s ruling on the wall in Palestine in 2004. In 2021, the UK dismissed the ICJ’s ruling that it did not have a claim to the Chagos Islands, Diego Garcia. China has gone a step further. It does not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. And so, the precedent set is that larger, more influential nations, have a tendency to ignore ICJ rulings.
Taking a closer look at Russia, it, historically, has taken a similar stance to China in that it does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Following on what I discussed in my first piece with regards to the initial conflict, Ukraine submitted a lawsuit against Russia to the ICJ in 2017. This was in relation to violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Unlike this year’s ruling, the ICJ rejected Kiev’s application. The Hague argued that Kiev failed to provide evidence of Russia’s funding leading to civilian deaths. However, it did acknowledge that there was a case for discrimination to be made. At the time, Russian officials ‘welcomed’ this ruling. And so, we do not yet have a precedent for a Russian response to an ICJ ruling that it disagrees with in its conflict with Ukraine.
So, will Putin listen to the ICJ? Taking a look at the president’s response to political pressure, it does not seem likely that Russia will take the ICJ’s ruling seriously. Moscow has been the subject of comprehensive sanctions; international businesses have been pulling out of the country, reminiscent of Soviet Russia. All this pressure has not caused Putin to buckle. As it stands, it seems unlikely that the Russian President will stop its invasion without any further pressure or consequence.
Stephanie is the Assistant Editor at the Journal of Political Risk. She has a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and an Honours degree in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town. She is currently pursuing her MPhil in Public Law, focusing on a gendered analysis of transitional justice mechanisms. She has also contributed as a member of the research team for the South African Medical Research Council, focusing on the National Health Insurance bill.