Wed, 13 Nov 2019

The International Court of Justice has ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear Kyiv's terrorism-financing complaint against Russia over Moscow's activities in eastern Ukraine.

The November 8 ruling, read out at the Hague-based United Nations court by Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf, said conditions had been met for the case to be heard in full. It also rejected Russia's argument that the court does not have jurisdiction in the case.

Kyiv alleges Moscow has breached a treaty on terrorism financing by arming and supporting pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

Kyiv has also charged that Russia-installed authorities have been suppressing the rights of ethnic Tatars and other minorities since Russia occupied and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The case opens a new legal front in strained relations between Russia and Ukraine and could take years to resolve.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal told journalists in Kyiv on November 8 that the ruling was a 'great victory for Ukraine' and 'a victory of the rule of law.'

'We can move forward and [present] all arguments at the court and for the international community, concerning violations which [took place] on Ukrainian soil,' Zerkal said. 'That means that Russia will be [held] accountable.'

'Russia used its veto right [at the UN Security Council] and we were not able to create an international tribunal and make sure that Russian authorities and Russian individuals are [held] accountable for shooting down MH17,' Zerkal said.

Zerkal also said authorities in Kyiv think the ruling could set a precedent that will have an impact on other cases filed against Russia in connection with its activities on Ukrainian territory.

'This court will hear this case and it might be that it will [have] influence on the Russian position at the [UN] Security Council and that we will achieve justice,' Zerkal said.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Washington said the decision was a 'landmark day for Ukraine.'

'It means that, despite Russia's efforts to avoid accountability, Ukraine's claims regarding the financing of terrorism in Ukraine and racial discrimination in Crimea by Russia will now move forward to a full hearing,' the embassy said in a statement on Facebook.

Justice Yusuf noted that the ICJ's ruling was limited to the issue of whether the UN court has jurisdiction and does not address the merits of Ukraine's complaints, which were filed in January 2017.

Ukrainian armed forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

Ukraine has asked the court to order Moscow to stop financing separatists in eastern Ukraine and to pay compensation for attacks -- including the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew on board.

Russia denies involvement in the downing of the passenger jet. But a Dutch-led international investigation concluded that the plane was shot down by a Russian Buk missile launcher positioned in separatist-controlled territory.

Ukraine also asked the UN court to order Russia to stop discriminating against ethnic Tartars in Crimea.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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