UN top court to hold genocide hearings over Russia invasion

The International Court of Justice said Tuesday it would hold genocide hearings on March 7 and 8 over the war in Ukraine, as fighting intensifies.

SAFE ARRIVAL. Some 13 Filipinos from Ukraine have arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in Pasay City from the Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland accompanied by Foreign Affairs officials. They are part of the 40 evacuees who have left Kyiv for Lviv and crossed the border of Poland-Ukraine. Danny Pata

The Hague-based ICJ, the United Nations’ top court, will open the public hearings after Ukraine lodged a complaint with the court to order Russia to stop its invasion.

“The hearings will be devoted to the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by Ukraine,” the court said in a statement.

More than 660,000 people have already fled abroad, the UN refugee agency said, estimating that a million people are displaced within ex-Soviet Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million.

The UN estimates that up to 4 million refugees may need help in the coming months and 12 million more will need assistance within the country.

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The ICJ, which is based in the Netherlands’ seat of government in The Hague, does not have a mandate to bring criminal charges against individual Russian leaders behind the invasion.

But it is the world’s top court for resolving legal complaints between states over alleged breaches of international law.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan had already announced he was launching an investigation on the “situation in Ukraine” following Russia’s invasion.

“I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine” since 2014, Khan said in a statement Monday.

Russia has defied international bans, boycotts and sanctions to press ahead with an offensive it says is aimed at defending Ukraine’s Russian speakers and toppling the leadership.

The United States trusts “the Court is taking into consideration the dire circumstances and rapidly unfolding events,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.

Spokesman Ned Price said Washington hopes the court “will act with utmost urgency on Ukraine’s request for provisional measures” in the hearing.

“Each day that Russia is unconstrained in its aggression is a day that brings more violence, suffering, death, and destruction in Ukraine,” he said.

After more than 100 countries spoke during two days of extraordinary debate, the UN General Assembly was poised to vote Wednesday on whether it will vigorously deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demand Moscow withdraw troops immediately.

The vote on the draft resolution is being touted by diplomats as a bellwether of democracy in a world where autocracy is on the rise in countries from Myanmar to Venezuela, and comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces bear down on Kyiv while terrified Ukrainians flee.

The resolution is non-binding, but — if it passes — will serve as a powerful rebuke to Russia on the world stage and a marker of its isolation. The vote must reach a two-thirds threshold to pass.

Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow has pleaded “self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

But that has been roundly rejected by Western countries who accuse Moscow of violating Article 2 of the Charter, requiring UN members to refrain from the threat or use of force to resolve a crisis.

The text of the resolution — led by European countries in coordination with Ukraine — has undergone numerous changes in recent days.

It no longer “condemns” the invasion as initially expected, but instead “deplores in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.”

It also makes clear the United Nations is “condemning” Putin’s decision to put his nuclear forces on alert, a move that ignited an immediate outcry from the West.

Nearly every General Assembly speaker Monday and Tuesday unreservedly condemned the war and the risks of military escalation.

Amid fears of a domino effect should Ukraine fall to Russia, Colombia rejected any return to “empire,” while Albania wondered: “Who will be next?”

From the Arab world it was Kuwait, itself the victim of an invasion by Iraq in 1990, whose denunciation of Moscow was the most explicit, with the rest of the Middle East remaining in the background.

Japan and New Zealand led condemnation from Asia, while India – close to Moscow militarily — remained cautious and China stressed the world had “nothing to gain” from a new Cold War.

But Russia was not entirely friendless, as Syria, Nicaragua, Cuba and North Korea all sided with Moscow and blasted what they saw as the double standards of Western nations who have invaded countries including Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

Several countries are left to speak before Wednesday’s expected vote, among them Moscow’s ally Belarus — which allowed Russia to use its territory as a launchpad for part of the invasion — and the United States.

Washington, like Europe, has adopted a barrage of sanctions aimed at isolating Russia and stifling its economy so that it cannot finance the war.

On the General Assembly sidelines, Washington has taken aim at Russians working at the United Nations, leveling accusations of espionage and demanding expulsions Tuesday for the second day running.

US President Joe Biden asserted Tuesday in his first State of the Union address that Putin had underestimated the West’s response to the invasion.

“He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And, he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said.

“Putin was wrong. We were ready.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said that 21 Filipino seafarers were safely transported from Ukraine to Moldova, but 141 Filipinos remain in the war-torn country.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola said the all-Filipino crew were extracted by Philippine Honorary Consul in Moldova Victor Gaina from Chornomorsk in Ukraine between Feb. 27 to March 1.

Of the 141 remaining Filipinos, 45 are in Kyiv, 55 are near the Hungarian border and the others are spread across Ukraine. At least 87 seafarers are also onboard ships docked near the country.

Arriola said many Filipinos are still hesitant to go home, some of whom refused to separate from their Ukrainian family while some opted to stay with their employers.

But she said the Philippines would continue monitoring them to ensure their safety and extend aid, including evacuation support, when requested.

Since Russia launched a massive military assault against Ukraine on Feb. 24, around 40 Filipinos have safely crossed the Polish border. At least 27 Filipinos have also sought refuge in Moldova, nine in Austria and four in Romania.

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