Russia’s continued defiance of international law

Source: The post is based on an article Russia’s continued defiance of international law” published in The Hindu on 11th October 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – International Relations

Relevance: Russia and Ukraine war

News: Russia has continued invading Ukraine despite widespread condemnation and sanctions.

Around 141 countries in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution demanding Russia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) also ordered Russia to immediately suspend its military operations in Ukraine.  However, Russia has continued its war against Ukraine.

What are the stands of Russia on war?

Russia has recently annexed Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine. Russia claims that these regions have had referendums and decided to join Russia.

However, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has pointed out that referenda in Ukraine were conducted in areas that are under Russian occupation.

Therefore, referendums in those regions may not constitute expression of the popular will of the people. Further, Russia has misused the international laws in favouring its position.

How Russia has misused the UN charter?

Russian President often invokes the UN Charter to justify his actions to the people of Russia.

He referred to Article 51 of the UN Charter just before invading Ukraine. The article provides for self-defence against an armed attack. However, it was wrong to refer the article as Russia did not have any threat from Ukraine.

He has currently referred to Article 1 of the Charter when he announced illegal annexations.

The reason behind using this article was that it provides the right of self-determination to the people and Putin wanted to say that the people of annexed regions did not have this right.

However, the right of self-determination under international law is debatable.

This right is also present in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It says that a group of people can freely determine their political status.

However, Article 1 has to be read with Article 2 of the UN Charter. Article 2 provides for the principle of non-intervention as one of the seven core principles of the UN.

Moreover, the principle of self-determination in Article 1 of the UN Charter has been understood in the context of decolonization rather than the annexation of new territories.

What does the international rule say on occupation of any territory?

Russia’s recent control over the four Ukrainian regions before referendums is known as ‘belligerent occupation’ under the international law.

The Hague Convention of 1899 talks about the rules on belligerent occupation.

Article 43 of the Convention states that if a country has occupied the territory of another country, then the country which has occupied the territory should take all steps to re-establish and ensure public order and safety in those territories.

Moreover, the occupant country shall respect the domestic laws of the country whose territory it has occupied.

Therefore, Russia has violated Article 43 of the Hague Convention by annexing the Ukrainian territories and imposing its laws on those territories.

Moreover, the Article also states that Russia, being the occupier, only has ‘authority’ and not ‘sovereignty’ over these regions. Further, any change in this status, i.e., from ‘authority’ to ‘sovereignty’ can only happen with Ukraine’s consent.

Moreover, the Russian President has recently said that he can use nuclear weapons in the war against the Ukraine.

What are the emerging threats of a nuclear war?

Russia and Ukraine have not signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear-Weapons. However, the UN Charter is helpful to understand the legality of the nuclear threats.

The Charter provides the right of individual and collective self-defence which means that if Russia launches a nuclear attack, not only Ukraine but also its allies can launch a counter-attack on Russia in collective self-defence.

Furthermore, the Charter empowers the Security Council to take action even in the case of threat of force.

Therefore, it seems that international laws have not been enough to stop Russia from invading Ukraine and there is a need to look into it.

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