The United Nations‘ top court for disputes between states has said it has jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit filed by Ukraine against Russia for supporting pro-Russian separatists, rejecting Moscow’s call for the case to be thrown out.
In a summary of the ruling, International Court of Justice Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said on Friday conditions had been met for the case to be heard in full.
The court found unanimously that it has jurisdiction on the basis of anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination treaties to hear the case over Russia’s alleged support for separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
“This is a great victory for Ukraine but not only for Ukraine. I think this is a victory of the rule of law,” Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told reporters outside the court.
“Russia will be accountable and will have to present their opinion and their views and could not avoid accountability for all violations.”
There was no immediate reaction from Russia.
Friday’s ruling was limited to the issue of jurisdiction and did not address the merits of Ukraine’s complaints in the case, which related to Russia arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and reining in the rights of ethnic Tartars and other minorities following its annexation of Crimea.
Kyiv went to the court in January 2017, asking judges to order Moscow to stop financing the rebels and to pay compensation for attacks including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine on July 19, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the passenger jet, but an international investigation has charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over their alleged role in the deadly missile attack.
Moscow had in the past vetoed a Security Council draft resolution to set up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of the ill-fated airliner.
At hearings in June, Russia argued that Ukraine was using the two treaties as a way of bringing broader arguments about the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine before the world court.
Lawyers for Moscow insisted that the court had no jurisdiction and should throw out the case.
In a preliminary ruling in 2017, the court ordered Russia to stop limiting “the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions”.
However, in the same ruling, judges rejected Ukraine’s request for measures aimed at blocking Russian support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, saying Kyiv did not provide enough evidence to back up its claim that Moscow sponsored “terrorism” by funding and arming the rebels.
The case is going ahead as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is attempting to put an end to the conflict in the east of his country that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than a million.
Rulings by the court, the UN’s principal judicial organ, are final and binding on states.