Gavels for truth against Russia’s war lies

Ukraine has wisely used three international courts to both win preliminary findings against the invasion and gain further international support.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The United Nations’ top court on Wednesday ordered Russia to end its military assault on Ukraine, citing “innumerable civilian deaths.” Yet the real punch in this ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) isn’t the order itself, which is largely unenforceable. Rather, it is a finding that Ukraine has a plausible argument against one of Russia’s more puzzling excuses for the war: preventing alleged genocide against Ukraine’s minority Russian speakers.

Defeating Russia’s lies with truth has been a potent weapon for Ukraine so far in rallying both its people and global support – as well as reaching the Russian people. One of its best avenues are international courts like the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

“President [Vladimir] Putin’s short game is force. The world’s long game is law,” said Harold Koh, a lawyer for Ukraine who participated in the March 7 hearing before the ICJ.

Four days into the invasion, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court announced that he would start an investigation into Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine. The speed of the decision was unprecedented for the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes.

Six days after the invasion, the European Court of Human Rights granted an interim order for Russia to cease attacks on civilians and to provide corridors for humanitarian aid. 

Any of these courts’ findings and rulings will probably not be accepted by Russia or could come after the conflict ends. And criminal rulings against particular Russian leaders or soldiers might only prevent them from leaving their country out of fear of arrest. Yet for now, the preliminary moves of the courts have bolstered international resolve to support Ukraine, hold Russia accountable, and reset normal of international order.

Countering Russia’s propaganda is taking place on many fronts, but it may be the meticulous work of these courts that might be most persuasive. In all attempts at justice, the first step is eliciting the facts behind a crime or ripping away the justifications for it.

The late Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov once wrote, “We must make good the demands of reason and create a life worthy of ourselves and the goals we only dimly perceive.” In relying on international courts to expose the truth about Russia’s war, Ukrainians are on one crucial path to liberating their country of foreign forces. A lie exposed may be as good as a battalion of soldiers.

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