The Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory is a blatant violation of international law and is in no way justifiable. As the German Society for International Law rightly states, Russia’s arguments constitute an abuse of the language of international law and represent legally untenable positions. Russia’s war of aggression with the participation of Belarus and the massive attacks on the civilian population that accompany it violate fundamental principles of international law and meet the criteria of aggression, a fundamental crime against international criminal law. The war crimes that are also currently being witnessed must be documented and investigated, and those responsible must be prosecuted whenever this is possible. Sanctions must be imposed in an effective and globally coordinated fashion, in accordance with the minimum standards of international law, to prevent further violations. Ukraine has already appealed to the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, because Ukraine recognizes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the principle of universal jurisdiction permits investigations in several European states, including Germany, the war will also become subject to international criminal proceedings. ECCHR is currently exploring the extent to which it will participate in such initiatives.
In light of the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding at the moment, the protection of the civilian population and ensuring that evacuation routes are kept open are the highest priorities. We welcome the current simplification of entry procedures for refugees fleeing from Ukraine into the EU and call for this practice to be extended to all people seeking protection in Europe. Racist discrimination at border crossings, as currently reported by several media sources, must be stopped immediately.
We also stand in solidarity with the civil societies in Russia and Belarus, which, despite repression, are taking to the streets with great courage to protest the war. They must be protected, and the brutal violations of their freedoms must be legally investigated.
In recent days and weeks, international law has been frequently invoked from different perspectives – justifiably, the grave violations of law on the part of Russia were condemned by numerous states and politicians, among which were also, however, representatives of states that have for years participated in the weakening of institutions that protect human rights and international law, or even threatened the work of such institutions with sanctions and financial withdrawal. Nonetheless, the response to the current crisis must include the strengthening of human rights and the continued development of international law. A military solution between nuclear powers would be as fatal as a return to Cold War-style confrontation – because the latter would undo all global efforts to solve the social and environmental challenges ahead, such as pandemics and climate change.
The international order has been in crisis for more than just a week. The inability of global institutions to protect and enforce political, social and economic human rights persists in many regions of the world. Now, the effects of a world order based on militarization and confrontation are becoming visible on such a terrible scale not only in Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan, but also in Europe. That is why we hope that demands to strengthen international law and reforms in the United Nations will finally be implemented. One urgent task is to reform the UN Security Council into a viable and democratic body. Its current dysfunctional configuration, with the veto rights of individual major powers, should no longer have a future.
There is a danger that the developments in Ukraine will lead to increased militarization, nationalism and the dystopian division of the world into so-called spheres of power without regard for democracy and fundamental rights. In opposition to this, we call for global solidarity and more civil society cooperation, more respect for political and social human rights, and the strengthening of international law to help us emerge from this painful low point and bring about a more just and peaceful world.
Find out more in our web dossier, in which we explore avenues toward accountability at the national and international level for crimes arising from the conflict, as well as outline our approaches for strengthening international criminal law.