Kingson Uwandu, a graduate student of International & Comparative Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a qualified Nigerian attorney, discusses the international implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine under the UN Charter...
For me, like for most international law and history students, it was unexpected to see Russia invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022. I always thought that the UN is well prepared and able to keep the peace around the globe and forestall a future world war. I never imagined that a member state could arrogate to itself the power to “demilitarize” or “denazify” an independent sovereign. Especially when it tries to achieve this goal by invading the territorial integrity of a member state and murdering its civilian population, including women and children. And all these gruesome acts are committed with no reasonable justification. Nothing inflicts on me greater pain than seeing the UN so helpless and unable to stop Russia’s act of aggression.
The United Nations Charter established the Security Council and vested it with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, amongst other important functions designed to prevent hostilities or armed conflicts. When hostilities arise, the Security Council is empowered to stop them as soon as possible. It could achieve that through issuing cease-fire directives, dispatching military observers or a peacekeeping force to de-escalate the situation. The Security Council can also impose economic sanctions, sever diplomatic relations, and use collective military action to enforce its order and directives.
As important as the Security Council is in maintaining world peace and security, its functions are flawed with the designation of five member states–China, Russia, France, UK and the US–as permanent members of the Security Council. These permanent member states have extraordinary and overarching powers to veto decisions of the Security Council. The other ten members are elected on a regional basis for a term of two years. A permanent member’s veto power is self-defeating and thus, an aberration. Consequently, at the meeting of the UN Security Council held on February 25, 2022, Russia vetoed a resolution calling on it to withdraw from Ukraine, while China abstained from voting. This was a gross abuse of privilege. This singular action exposes the impropriety of decorating any country with a special privilege over others. This is because the UN was founded on the principle of equality amongst the member states and mutual respect for the independence and sovereignty of every member state.
Russia, a privileged permanent member of the Security Council, took laws into its hands in absolute disregard to the UN Charter and international law. This act was a test of the will of the UN and exposed the Security Council’s weakness. On March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution–supported by 140 out of 193 member states–demanding that Russia ends its military operation in Ukraine. China abstained from voting as usual. On March 16, 2022, with a vast majority of 13 judges, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop its military operation in Ukraine immediately. Only the Russian and Chinese judges voted against this order. Russia has remained adamant and neglected the resolution and order. Ever since, the UN is willfully unwilling to use military coalition to stop Russia from achieving whatever aim it may have, thereby leaving Ukraine at the mercy of Russia.
Russia’s invasion and unprovoked attack on Ukraine is egregious and highly reprehensible. Murdering innocent Ukrainian civilians, many of whom are women and children, in cold blood constitutes a genocide and war crime. There is no reasonable justification for Russia’s impunity and total disregard of the international law. Unfortunately, Russian invasion enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens who blame the victims for refusing to accede to Putin’s demands. Many Russians do not have access to free media.
Russia abused its privilege through breaching not only the UN Charter, but also international law and international humanitarian law (also called law of war or law of armed conflict). The international law contains relevant provisions and principles necessary to protect the two Ukrainian regions–Luhansk and Donetsk–Russia has sought to protect by evading the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Assuming without conceding that Russian was right in its allegation that Ukraine was guilty of genocide, Russia does not have the right to recognize the two Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. Neither does Russia have the authority to invade, kill innocent Ukrainians, and destroy public and private properties worth billions of dollars. The ongoing Russian attack has caused a humanitarian crisis, forcing over 2 million Ukrainians to flee their homes.
By not forcing Russia to stop the attacks, the UN has allowed Russia to set a dangerous example. A state can invade or wage war in a member state’s territory or conduct a military operation to “demilitarize” a member state. It would be an invitation to anarchy and disorder in the world and can defeat the purpose of the UN if other states follow Russia’s example in the future.
The polarity in the world polity has created resentment which threatens the peace and stability around the globe. Russia and China are uniting to uproot US hegemony in the world polity. They can go to great lengths to undermine the control and influence of the NATO, the US, and its European allies. The invasion of Ukraine is simply Russia’s way of showing its power and sending a message to the US and its allies. It is said that when two elephant fight, the grass suffers. The poor Ukrainian citizens have become the victims in this superiority contest.
In conclusion, Russia’s breach of international law and order with no sense of duty or responsibility calls for a rethinking of the UN and its instrumentalities for many reasons. First, it is no longer just and reasonable to recognize a member state as a permanent member with veto powers or privileges in the Security Council. Second, the UN should ensure the equality of all member states and must cease any form of privilege for a member state. Third, international law relating to war, genocide, war crimes and other related matters shall be binding and enforceable against any erring nation. Fourth, there is need to establish international military forces equipped and empowered to forestall or suppress future invasions. Fifth, to determine when and how to take military actions, a resolution of three/fourth of the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly shall be required. Finally, NATO or any other military coalitions or alliances amongst member states outside the control of UN should be dissolved.
Kingson Uwandu is a Public Analyst & an experienced foreign qualified attorney (2012); author of THE NIGERIAN DREAM: The Passion, The Vision, The Hope; graduate, University of Lagos (LL.B 2011 & LL.M 2019); and graduate student of International & Comparative Law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law (May, 2022).
Suggested citation: Kingson Uwandu, Russian Invasion: The UN, the Superpowers, and the Rest of the World, JURIST – Student Commentary, April 11, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/04/kingson-uwandu-russian-invasion-international-law/.
This article was prepared for publication by Katherine Gemmingen, Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at email@example.com
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