Professor of International Law, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University Hurst Hannum wrote in Theconveration.com that international law says Putin’s war against Ukraine is illegal.
Even the United Nations Charter say that countries should not invade each other.
Perhaps almost all of us know what these two international documents are saying as a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine almost four weeks ago today.
So, the question now is: Who will and has the ability to enforce these laws?
On February 24, 2022, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres put them to the test when he called on Russia to stop its fast-moving ground invasion of Ukraine.
He said: “The use of force by one country against another is the repudiation of the principles that every country committed to uphold. This applies to the present military offensive.
It is wrong. It is against the (United Nations) Charter. It is unacceptable. But it is not irreversible,” Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Then he concluded, “Stop the military operation. Bring the troops back to Russia. We know the toll of war.”
The toll is increasing daily as Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky reported lately that at least 137 Ukrainians have been killed by Russian troops since Russia President Vladimir Putin sent tanks and launched missiles into Ukraine in the early hours of Feb. 24. Zelensky also reported that at least 316 additional Ukrainians have since been wounded in the Russian attacks.
It seems that Guterres’ call to stop the war fall on deaf ears. Putin perhaps didn’t hear it and there is no indication that he will abide with the plea.
As of today, Putin continue to demolish Ukraine, including civilians, as it nears its 4th week of invasion.
For his part, Hannum said, “As a professor of international law, I believe it is important to remember that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal. But enforcing the law is challenging, as armed conflicts around the world demonstrate all too clearly.”
International law is a set of rules and standards that governs relations between different countries.
Countries jointly develop international law and often pass their own national legislation that holds them accountable to these standards.
International law addresses almost any subject, ranging from protecting children’s rights and preserving the environment to regulating international trade and investment.
They are spelled out in international treaties — sometimes also called conventions, pacts and covenants and all U.N. members are legally bound by the Charter.
Looking back, the first quasi-serious attempt to prohibit war in the past 100 years happened in 1928, when the U.S. and France developed the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
Under this pact, countries agreed to settle their disputes peacefully and to “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.”
Some of the world’s most powerful countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, India and Japan, also ratified this very short treaty in Paris, defining the laws of war and peace.
But the countries’ willingness to abide by the treaty lasted less a decade, and crumbled entirely when World War II erupted in September 1939.
The second major international initiative that addresses conflict led to the adoption in 1949 of the four Geneva Conventions, as they are known. These conventions have specific rules that help protect combatants and civilians during war — and are accepted by all countries. The conventions prohibit torture and ensure soldiers’ and civilians’ rights to proper medical treatment.
They also prevent countries from using torture to extract information from prisoners of war (POWs) and from attacking wounded or sick soldiers.
Again, this didn’t matter much because these conventions only deal with how war should be conducted, not when use of armed force is legal, which is the object of this current international fiasco started by Russia.
The most important contemporary rule on international conflict is found in the U.N. Charter, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Observers say the term “use of force” means what it says and not to camouflage it with actions pretending to be peacekeeping missions or military exercise or special operations as Putin claims to be in the case of Ukraine.
There’s no doubt… under no scenario is Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine legal under contemporary international law and norms.
It is clear that it is an illegal act of war that has to be condemned.
Another thing, according to the international law, self-defense is the only justification for use of force against another country. This condition is found in the U.N. Charter and is binding for all 193 U.N. member countries.
Looking at the Ukraine invasion by Russia, to date, nothing could be construed as an “armed attack” on Russia and justify any Russian claim to self-defense. In fact, Russia waged an unprovoked war against Ukraine.
So, how is international law enforced? “Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law … almost all of the time,” a highly respected U.S. law professor, Louis Henkin, wrote in 1979.
Answer: There is no standing international police force to enforce international law. So, compliance is primarily in the hands of countries themselves.
The International Court of Justice, created by the U.N. and located in the Hague, Netherlands, decides disputes between countries, including alleged violations of the U.N. Charter. But only 73 countries out 195 have accepted the court’s jurisdiction and in no way enforceable.
There is probably no law, international or domestic, that enjoys universal compliance. The challenge to enforce international law remains — a challenge laid bare most recently and blatantly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The escalating conflict in Ukraine will lead to immense civilian casualties, soaring humanitarian needs, and likely one of the biggest new displacement crises in recent years, aid agencies warn.According to Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management:
“We are witnessing what could become the largest humanitarian crisis on our European continent in many, many years. The needs are growing as we speak.”
This week, the UN launched the coordinated emergency appeals for a combined $1.7 billion for the next three months to urgently deliver humanitarian support to people in Ukraine and refugees in neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, expressed the Organization’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
“As we try to understand the evolving situation in different parts of the country… we are here to support the people exhausted by years of conflict and we are prepared to respond in case of any increase in humanitarian needs,” she said in a statement.
Finally, UNESCO also called for “restraint from attacks on, or harm to, children, teachers, education personnel or schools, and for the right to education to be upheld”.
At the same time, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal for an immediate cease-fire and called on all parties to respect their international obligations to protect children from harm, and to ensure that humanitarian actors can safely and quickly reach children in need.
So, it appears that the end of the war in Ukraine lies in the hands of the parties, i.e Zelensky and Putin and super nations like China and US including NATO.
Praying for the parties to end the war without resorting to WW 111!
(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at [email protected])