Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC open debate "Strengthening accountability and justice for serious violations of international law"
We welcome President of the International Court of Justice Judge Joan E. Donoghue, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and Professor Dapo Akande to this debate.
Let me avail of this opportunity and thank the delegation of the United States for a professional and impartial Presidency of the Security Council in the month of May. We count on the delegation of Albany to be guided by the same professional approach when implementing its duties of President of the Council in June.
For several months by now, we have been watching Western states demonstrate a transcendent degree of hypocrisy in their statements. Against the backdrop of Russian special military operation, they suddenly recalled that there is such a thing as the international law.
When NATO was attacking Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, international law was perceived only as an annoying impediment. In effectless attempts to justify their aggression against sovereign states, the collective West had to come up with exotic concepts, such as “humanitarian intervention”, “war on terror”, “preventive strikes”. Of course, none of those had anything to do with international law. That is why the US and NATO’s military adventures were nothing else than “aggressive unprovoked wars of choice”. They systematically and cynically ignored international law, including the UN Charter. At the highest political level, the United States claimed to be “exceptional”, meaning that it stood above the international law. And then, with maniac-like tenacity, the collective West started to promote the idea of replacing classical international law with some “rules-based order”. This new “set of norms” meant that a small group of states made their own rules and pretended they were universal.
This is the logic that we see behind the current activity that Western states started around bodies of international criminal justice, saying that they want to punish our country.
Please note that when there are risks that NATO soldiers may be charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity, we see a completely different type of activity. Western states do their best to guard their contingents. They employ both financial and administrative leverage and direct threats against international criminal justice mechanisms. Quite indicatively, US imposed personal sanctions against former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. As is well known, the new Prosecutor “de-prioritized” all ICC cases regarding the crimes of British and American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, all investigative activity on those cases stopped. It turns out that once it comes to responsibility of Western military, there is no longer any need to counter impunity.
In their attempts to justify themselves, the West usually says that their legal systems are perfectly capable of holding the perpetrators to account and that allegedly they do need the ICC. But somehow there are no reports about any verdicts for the military from the US, UK, and other Western states for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
By the way, most of those crimes, as well as atrocious tortures in Guantanamo and CIA’s secret prisons in Europe would have remained unknown to us, had it not been for sensational materials published by Julian Assange. Those states who so eloquently advocate for fighting impunity today, what did they do once this information became public? Did they rush to investigate and hold the perpetrators from among their nationals to account? No way! The only person they actually gunned for was Julian Assange himself. Great Britain is about to extradite this courageous journalist to the United States, where he will be charged for espionage. State-run police system of the US does not leave any doubt that he will spend the rest of his life in prison in case he is lucky enough to live to the trial. This is all one needs to know about the approaches of the collective West to fighting impunity when it comes down to themselves.
So what is the take-away of NATO atrocities? The scenario is always the same: lots of casualties, and no one held accountable (even in disciplinary terms, to say nothing of criminal liability). We took note of incoherent excuses made by Pentagon representative John Kirby on 17 May. He called the US air strike that killed many civilians near the Syrian city of Baghouz a “tragic mistake”. At the same time, he made it clear that no one from US troops was or would be held accountable. And this was not the first such case in Syria. Perhaps it was not the last one either. The US and its colleagues from the “purely defensive alliance” of NATO set forth the illegal occupation of part of Syrian sovereign territory in the aftermath of their armed aggression against that country.
Here is another case of hypocrisy shown by the West and advocates of international criminal justice. It is about news that has arrived from the Netherlands. As announced lately, a group of investigators and forensic experts would be dispatched from the Netherlands to Ukraine in order to engage in the interests of the Office of the ICC Prosecutor. Almost at the same instance, it was reported that Dutch national law enforcement would stop investigating the cases of Dutch soldiers who had targeted residential buildings in the Afghan village of Uruzgan in 2007, where no military facilities were located. Same scenario shows again – there are civilians who have been killed, but there are no perpetrators responsible for the war crimes. Of course, why need the ICC if national judiciary bodies of Western states can do everything by themselves – “wear down” cases against members of their military and imitate fight against impunity?
The West needs the ICC only as a political tool. Nobody even pretends it is not so. Suffice it to mention the allocation of unprecedented financial, organizational and human resources to the ICC by the very states that shortly before that had done their best to guard their military from the Court. This is not even double standards, but rather limitless cynicism. This is how justice turns into a farce: paid-for court issues paid-for verdicts.
Neither the ICC nor the West are bothered about numerous crimes of the Kiev regime that rose to power after a deadly coup d’état of 2014. The case of “unidentified snipers”, who cold-bloodedly shot at both protestors and law enforcers at the Maidan square, was completely forgotten. We have seen similar scenarios unfold in many other color revolutions.
Our colleagues will hardly mention the civilians of Donbas today, whom Ukrainian military have killed over the 8 years of shelling and bombardments that continue as we speak. No one will ask to hold Kiev accountable for the acts of nationalists who burnt people alive in the Odessa Trade Union House. It came to a point where criminals from the Azov battalions who uphold hateful Nazi ideology, are praised as heroes not only in Ukraine, but entire collective West. Swastikas and other Nazi symbols displayed not only on uniforms, but also bodies of those people do not seem to bother the self-proclaimed champions of democratic values who keep saying that there is no Nazism in Ukraine, that it is all Russian propaganda.
Some UNSC members today touched upon the Order of the International Court of Justice of 16 March 2022 indicating provisional measures in the case filed by Ukraine under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Statements of American and British delegations became another manifestation of the policy of double standards.
We all remember too well how the United States, once it had lost in a ICJ case filed by Nicaragua, not only refused point blanc to implement the verdict – I stress that it was a final decision rather than an order of provisional measures – but also vetoed a corresponding resolution twice in the Security Council.
Great Britain also clearly demonstrated its stance towards the ICJ, having refused to complete the de-colonization process and turn the Chagos Archipelago back to Mauritius. In its advisory opinion dated 25 February 2019, the ICJ unambiguously stated an obligation of the United Kingdom “to bring an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”. General Assembly supported this position of the ICJ in its resolution 73/295. When it was put to vote, it only received 4 votes against apart from the votes of the UK itself and the United States. This did not abash London in the slightest way, because until this day, the UK has been carrying on with its colonial occupation of the Archipelago, where a US military base is deployed. When land clearing for this military base, they had to forcefully displace the local population. In the course of consideration of resolution 73/295 in the General Assembly, Great Britain was called to pay a just compensation to all those who had suffered from the crimes against humanity. But the calls were strongly rejected.
This brings us to a very simple conclusion. Western states are ready to spill high-sounding words about the implementation of ICJ rulings, countering impunity and paying compensations to victims of violence as long as it does not regard themselves.
Let me say a few words about the ICJ order of provisional measures of 16 March 2022. It was a response to instituting proceedings filed by Ukraine which requested to not be subjected to the use of force on account of false claims of violating the Genocide Convention.
We could not help noting some similarity with the 1999 case, when Yugoslavia also referred to the Convention on Genocide to attain provisional measures. The ICJ rejected this claim of Yugoslavia, because it was opposed by NATO.
However the position on provisional measures for Ukraine is the exact opposite. To that end, there are detailed legal arguments and explanations, yet at the same time a very simple idea shines through all this: under a powerful political pressure, the Court may take inconsistent decisions. The West feels that. So on 20 May, 41 European states and the European Union, supported by the Marshall Islands and Micronesia submitted a joint address to the ICJ. It was an unprecedented attempt to influence the Court’s position in favor of Ukraine.
In any case, the prescript to Russia to “suspend the military operations” was made by the ICJ solely in the context of a claim under the Genocide Convention. It does not and cannot cover the really proclaimed goals, tasks and reasons for conducting the SMO.
In this regard, let me remind that our special military operation was started under Article 51 of the UN Charter. On 24 February, we submitted a corresponding notification to the Security Council in the order laid down in the aforementioned article. As far as we know, the International Court of Justice never addressed an issue of canceling any separate provisions of the UN Charter, including its Article 51, or depriving a member state of a right to exercise their inalienable rights to collective or individual defense.
We almost daily hear new calls to institute more investigative mechanisms or quasi-tribunals.
What is the most interesting here is how exactly it is offered to “churn out” tribunals on Russia. Authors of these initiatives propose to do it on a basis of an agreement made by interested states. Just think about it – a group of states in all seriousness discusses an opportunity to get a third country convicted by joint efforts. Of course, mechanisms of international justice are not perfect, but when they were established, at least a semblance of impartiality and balanced geography of representation was maintained. Now masks are off for good – collective West thinks itself entitled to administer justice unilaterally.
The West commits another war crime when it pumps up Ukraine with weapons, allegedly to enhance its capacity and give opportunities to push back Russia. But Ukraine uses these weapons to keep bombarding residential quarters of Donbas, the way they have been doing this for all those 8 years, killing women, elderly, and children. For example, the United States delivered long-range M777 howitzers to Ukraine. On the eve of the International Day for Protection of Children, projectiles launched from one of these machines killed 5 people in Makeevka near Donetsk, among them was a five-year-old girl called Mira. The US also announced plans to deliver multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine. This can only lead to further escalation of the conflict – the very conflict Washington hypocritically claims so eager to put an end to. The ICC should be aware of that too, of course if this institution takes any interest in the issues of justice.
The “honor roll” of crimes committed by most ardent supporters of international justice is very lengthy. Today we raised but a small part of those. To address it in full, we would have needed a format that goes far beyond what a statement at a debate can encapsulate. I would recommend to the collective West this one thing. If you want to condemn aggression – start with yourselves. Set an example by condemning your own military adventures, illegal economic restrictions, deadly colonial and neo-colonial wars, genocide, and robbery of indigenous peoples. Start paying off compensations to states and nations that suffered from you. Such a step would indeed bring us closer to having a more just world order that would have no place for anyone’s self-proclaimed “exceptionalism”.