International Justice

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Tag Archives: Ukraine

Vigilante Justice in Ukraine?

pavlov1Pro-Russian rebel leader, Arsen Pavlov, was assassinated this weekend, leading to further uproar in the country. Rebel members suspect the assassination was the work of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. Pavlov is accused many war crimes, including killing prisoners of war on multiple occasions, leaving many people rejoicing about his death. However, his rebel members describe the assassination as an “act of terrorism” and feel that the government of Ukraine has now declared war on them. While Pavlov’s rebel group is convinced this was an act by the government, there are many groups that could have perpetrated this crime. Even still, this killing violates the ceasefire order, creating heavy tension and fighting throughout eastern Ukraine. While killing Pavlov means he will never be able to be tried for his war crimes, many leaders and groups believe he got what he deserved.

Genocide in Ukraine

In the 1930s, Ukraine was in a major famine caused by russia. It was caused because Ukraine wanted their independence and they tried to get it in starting in 1917. When they lost the civil war, Ukraine was owned by different countries in europe. The Soviet Union started to take large amounts of their grain, which was how they made their money and got their food. This led to a famine, where according to The history place, then led to 7 million deaths. To me this should be considered genocide because Russia unreasonably took all of the citizens supply, thus targeting citizens.There has not been much done to hold Russia accountable or to give Ukraine the justice they deserve.

Ukrainian President calls for international justice for Crimea

This time last year, a political revolution in the Ukraine led to the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko uses this anniversary to reassure his people that Ukraine is dedicated to regaining control of Crimea and protecting “the rights and interests of … all the inhabitants of the peninsula, regardless of their ethnic, language and religious background.’

To achieve this goal, President Poroshenko brings forth accusations against Russia of repressing the rights of Crimeans throughout its annexation, and is calling for Vladimir Putin and all Russian officials responsible for the invasion and occupation of the peninsula to stand trial in both international and Ukrainian courts.

While both countries attempt to pullback heavy weapons from the front lines, Pro-Russian rebels within Ukraine continue to delay peace efforts through artillery strikes against Ukrainian forces. Russia denies supporting the rebel forces, however, the Western Powers and NATO have satellite images that show otherwise.

In order to deter even more serious crimes, the Coalition for the ICC’s Campaign for Global Justice has recently urged Ukraine to become a full member of the ICC through ratification of the Rome Statute. The Coalition’s letter to President Poroshenko reads, “Ukraine’s membership in the ICC would send a clear signal that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide will not be tolerated.”

As this issue continues to develop it will be interesting to see how involved the ICC will become. If the international court is allowed jurisdiction through Ukraine’s ratification, what charges will be brought forth against Russia? The jurisdictional debate over the crime of aggression will be a focal point in this case, and if the satellite images are proven to be real, similar charges to Charles Taylor’s “aiding and abetting” the rebel forces in Sierra Leone could be on the table. It seems to me that joining the ICC is definitely in Ukraine’s best interest if Poroshenko truly wishes to see Russia held accountable for its actions. We will have to wait and see what the Ukrainian leadership decides to do.

Articles here and here.

Ukrainian Crisis Escalates

According to recent developments on the Ukrainian crisis, Rebel Russian groups are beginning to encircle Ukraine troops in the strategic railway junction of Debaltseve. This offensive push from the rebel groups is a further warning sign that the September ceasefire is breaking down, and that the ceasefire merely acted as a tool for both sides to rearm. At this point the violence has taken its toll on the population of Ukraine with 5,358 people killed, 12,235 wounded, and 921,640 people internally displaced. With Russia violating virtually “every commitment of the peace deal” in the words of President Obama, the next question is what should the international community do next? This conflict raises issues of transitional justice and whether or not the international community steps in after the wreckage and the dust settle, or before the violence ends. This is when we ask what exactly is transitional justice, and when it comes into play. The Ukraine crisis could be an interesting example of “proactive” transitional justice—if major international powers choose to intercede earlier rather than later in delivering justice.

Ukraine: Split Decisions

Single Ukraine?

The world continues to watch Ukraine as it remains an issue of Russian geographical self-interest.

March 4, President Putin made his first public appearance since ordering and subsequently halting the advance of Russian troops into the contested area. He broke his silence on the political upheaval in Ukraine on Tuesday during a 66-minute news conference that sought to justify Russia’s actions and policies.

Amidst the political crisis in the Ukraine, numerous Western leaders have accused of Moscow of violating international law by deploying unmarked Russian military forces across the autonomous Republic of Crimea. Is Moscow violating international law?

On the other hand, Western leaders, like Obama have been criticized of “wishful thinking.” The Washington Post said “For five years President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality.”

Russia can legally argue its position for sending troops since the interim government in Kiev is not the legitimate government of the Ukraine. Foreign governments that are willfully recognizing and thereby trying to confer international legitimacy on the interim government in Kiev, however, are considered to be breaking international law by violating the sovereignty of the Ukraine constitution.

International law continues to play a difficult and diffuse role. Russia seems to be in the position that they can technically invoke a legal position to instigate a humanitarian intervention, yet Russians’ support for the independence of Crimea could be a violation of the sovereignty of the Ukraine.

The position of the U.S. seems to be in cooperation with the Russia administration while rejecting a Russian-backed effort for a referendum in Crimea to separate from the rest of Ukraine. Is there any common ground of Obama’s “resetting” of U.S. relations without Russia?

What kinds of legal grounds does this referendum have? How would joining Russia lead to more security and leadership crises? Does Ukraine’s current new interim government not recognize the leadership in Crimea? Are you in favor or Crimea reuniting with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation or in favor of retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?

The referendum was announced to be set for May 25, but Kiev’s new government has slated the presidential election for that day. The regional Crimean parliament has moved the date for March 16.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: A Possible Crime of Aggression?

What’s the Situation in Ukraine right now?

Right as the young and fresh new Ukrainian government was scrambling to get themselves together, Russia moved their military into Crimea this past weekend. It was a rapid, unexpected, and non-violent military takeover that caught not just Ukraine but the entire international community by surprise. The Ukrainian government has not authorized military action against the Russians in fear of starting a bloody war.

Putin’s intentions in Ukraine aren’t entirely clear. More modest speculations include wanting to protect the Russians in Crimea from anti-Russian violence , wanting to stabilize a potentially volatile political situation right along Russia’s border. More bold speculation includes Putin wanting to potentially take over Crimea or even all of Ukraine and annex it into Russia. Other former Soviet states have expressed concern that Russia’s aggression might extend to their territories as well. Estonia’s president called for stronger defense in fear of further Russian aggression.

Is This an Act of Aggression?

There has been significant international outcry against Russia’s actions, centered largely around the illegality of such military action under international law. Acts of aggression are defined by amendment of the Rome Statute as the use of armed force carried out by one state against another state without the justification of self-defense or through UN Sanction. By this definition, Russia’s actions can definitely be construed as a crime of aggression.

Can/Will/Should the ICC Step In?

Although the ICC is technically a retroactive court, it has demonstrated since its inception that it has a clear interest in intervention and prevention.  It would not be entirely inconceivable for the ICC to want to prevent mass violence in this case by stepping in under the umbrella of crimes of aggression.

Whether the ICC can is another question entirely, and the answer is a pretty resolute no. Russia and Ukraine are both not party to the Rome Statute, so the prosecutor cannot initiate an investigation. The UN Security Council referral option is out, given that Russia would veto any action on that front. One possible option, should Ukraine really want the intervention of the ICC, is for Ukraine to pull the stunt that the Cote d’Ivoire pulled in 2011, where they invited the ICC to open an investigation and accepted the jurisdiction of the court without being a member state of the Rome treaty. 

But the chances of that occurring are slim to none, particularly in a case where there have been no deaths or mass violence on Russia’s part. The crime of aggression, although clearly defined in the ICC’s jurisdiction, has never actually been acted upon. A good precedent would be the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, which faced limited international retribution for its potential violation of aggression laws. Even if military action breaks out in Crimea, consequences for aggression are unlikely.

If not the ICC, then Who?

The United Nations is the most obvious international player with an interest in preventing a potential war, but is severely handicapped by Russia’s position on the Security Council. Some articles have speculated that NATO will play one of the biggest roles in standing up to Russia. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO, NATO has interests in the surrounding Baltic states and Poland, all of which are threatened by Russia’s expansion into Ukraine. The European Court of Human Rights has also been mentioned, although what role it could or would play appears to be ambiguous.  

Without any international regulatory institutions directly involved, it might come down to political and economic pressure to convince Russia to not advance. But that poses its own problems–Russia’s economy is largely dependent on the exportation of natural resources, and sanctions on resources such as gas would severely impact European countries like Germany and France, for whom Russia is the biggest supplier.

Given the rapid developments over the past few days, there is no telling where the situation will go in the next few weeks, and who will end up being pulled into this potential crisis in Eurasia.



Ukrainian Volunteer Referral

In a recent New York Times article, “Infighting Poses Hurdle to Formation of New Coalition in Ukraine“, the transitional government situation in Ukraine is discussed. Parliament has struggled to make decisions and to form a new coalition government. When the article was being written, the nomination process for an acting prime minister and a provisional had been delayed, simply underlining the challenges Parliament faces in regards to legislation and creating a functional government. Image

The article examines Parliaments decision to give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction to work on cases “related to the deadly violence by the police against antigovernment demonstrators last week”. Here the core issues of the ICC come into play once again, largely surrounding jurisdiction.

This means that prosecutors at the ICC would have to determine if crimes committed against protestors were grave enough to be considered, as in grave enough to be considered crimes against humanity. Furthermore, a more challenging element of this jurisdiction issue is proving that the Ukrainian judicial system is both unwilling and unable to handle the cases.

“The practical purpose of that vote, however, was unclear. While Ukraine can request that the court take temporary jurisdiction, it cannot request the indictment of specific individuals nor specify which crimes are involved.”

The aforementioned issues indicate that it is unlikely that the ICC will be able to operate in Ukraine at the moment, especially seeing as a Security Council referral would also be incredibly unlikely due to a Russian veto. This is made increasingly opaque when considering that Ukraine is not a member state of the Rome Statute – a volunteer referral leaves the ICC in an odd situation with a non-member state. However, the importance of the volunteer referral cannot be underscored.

Another interesting aspect of this particular case is that the ICC taking the Ukrainian case would be the first non-African case for the Court. Is it in the Court’s best interest to have the first out of Africa case be in such an unstable nation? The difficult transition that the Ukrainian administration is going through, coupled with the violence and protests indicate that operating within Ukraine would be very difficult, at least until there was some sort of coalition government in power. This is especially important due to the fact that Ukraine is not party to the Rome Statute – the coalition government in control would have to be willing to cooperate with the ICC to some degree to aid in successful prosecutions. Given that Parliament itself voted to have the ICC have temporary jurisdiction, the implication is that certain political parties are willing to cooperate with and work with the Court. In sum, the issues outlined of jurisdiction, relevance and stability all imply that Ukraine, despite its volunteer referral, is unlikely to be on the ICC’s docket any time soon.

Ukraine begins to put the pieces together following Yanukovych’s departure

After former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych has left Kiev, protestors broke into his palace compound and Kiev and found many pieces of evidence of corruption, whether they be documents that recorded the passovers of large sums of cash or ridiculously ostentatious pieces of furniture and decoration.  Compound invaders also found the soggy remains of many documents that Yanukovych’s henchmen couldn’t dispose of properly in the compounds reservoir; men are working now to recover them to gain a better picture of just how corrupt Yanukovych’s reign was.  

Ever since Yanukovych backed out of trade agreements with the European Union in November and instead sided with the Russians for cheap utilities such as gas and credit, the Ukranian people have been protesting, first peacefully, then violently in the last week.  Now, the protests are somewhat over, although some protesters still haven’t left the main square under command from the political opposition.   In the power vacuum created by Yanukovych’s absence, Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has become the interim president, and has vowed to “rejoin the European family.”  A lot of questions still remain: How was Turchynov chosen for the interim presidency (this BBC article has no information on the process  Will the international community be involved in the corruption trials that Yanukovych will probably be subjected to? Will the fractious opposition party be able to engender peace and cooperation to the country in transition?

Truce Declared in Ukraine in Wake of Deadly Violence

Truce Declared in Ukraine in Wake of Deadly Violence


The Kiev Battlefield Ignites

In the midst of thousands of anti-government protesters facing off with riot police in central Kiev Wednesday morning, there have been continuing talks of civil war.

I am not sure where exactly the civil war talk started, but it seems focused on the topic of national identity more than a EU vs. Russia debate. The thought about civil war seems a little exaggerated. Who will fight against who? The current protest is not about EU vs. Russia anymore. The issue lies in the corrupt practices of the current government. An EU vs. Russia issue probably would not have lead hundreds of people in the streets with “tactics of scorched earth.”

Civil war brings in international concern but if the West gets too involved and aggressive about pressuring Yanukovych to halt authoritarian-related actions, this could get worse. Should Ukrainians be left alone to solve their own crisis without outside interference? Is this a more peaceful approach? (even with talks of civil war?)

Joe Biden has called Ukraine’s president to urge restraint regarding the violent clashes in Kiev, but most of the power seems to be with Putin and Ukrainians, so it is not clear what the West could do. In between deep issues with Ukraine’s troubled economy and unresolved national identity, how much could Western action make a difference? Is it enough for the United States to just issue statements and follow those up with economic sanctions?

I don’t know how long a truce will last, but forging a lasting peace will require some changes involving political truce.

Major Revolt in Ukraine and Livestream

As part of a wider wave of protests and civil unrest called Euromaidan, for the past two days opposition leaders and a flood of demonstrators met at Independence Square to protest recent government measures in Ukraine. Some sources put the number of protesters at over a hundred thousand, but the exact number is uncertain. Since November, the country has been divided over the government’s choice to decline a trade agreement with the European Union, and instead join one with Russia. Geographically, the state is fairly split between pro-European regions in the west and pro-Russia regions in the east. Ukraine has been suffering from an anemic economy for a while now, and with an already discontent people, the January 17th measures passed by the government curtailing free speech and peaceful protests ignited bitter protests.

Here’s a useful infographic of the new legislation. Not only do the protesters see such legislation as highly undemocratic, but the government is being condemned for bypassing Parliament and passing the laws themselves. And because there’s no independent judiciary, there’s no legal recourse to rescind the laws. Here it becomes apparent why an independent judiciary is crucial to a stable, democratic state, and how not having an independent judiciary to keep the government’s laws in line seems to leave people to the whim of the regime.

What’s especially interesting is the way in which the protests are being covered: for several hours, they’ve been livestreamed on both Ustream and Youtube. This is in addition to the live footage already available on Youtube. Due to the high amount of transparency, I wonder if the government will act in a particularly cautious manner, or at least in a more cautious manner than they otherwise would have in the absence of such prevalent live footage. The whole ordeal is incredibly surreal and reminds me of the Arab Spring protests, but at the same time I don’t recall them being live streamed, and it’s not entirely clear if people want to do away with the current regime entirely. Ukraine appears to be in a turbulent period, and a transition to a new regime seems very possible, perhaps soon, or perhaps quite some time later–but whatever the case, the violent protests and condemnation of the current government demands some sort of response from the regime. But what if the government responds violently? Should other democratic states or the UN step in? At what point? While waiting too long could leave many innocents defenseless, how can we tell if the government is truly acting against the will of the people–do the people protesting represent the will of the majority? If the government acts violently towards its people, what’s the threshold at which we can justify intervention?

Here are some more great sources:
A livefeed of the protests
Live footage of policemen set on fire from protestors’ molotov cocktails
A short video explaining the situation
A video put online by WhiteRa, a famous StarCraft 2 progamer and personality (this is actually how I first learned of the protests)
A protestor’s explanation for the revolts