Russian aggression would spell disaster for Ukraine, Europe and human rights

Statment of the International Federation for Human Rights

Paris, 15 February 2022. The world is holding its collective breath as President Vladimir Putin is poised to have Russia’s armed forces re-invade Ukraine, bringing Europe closer to the precipice of war. The undersigned organisations of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) call on the Russian Federation to pull back its armed forces, which have been amassed close to Ukraine’s borders in violation of international law’s prohibition of the threat of armed force, Ukraine to fully recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court by ratifying its Statute, and for the international community to ramp up efforts to prevent a breach of peace.

Russia’s deployment of over 130,000 soldiers, attack helicopters, fighter ships, tanks, heavy artillery and air defence systems amassed in the border regions of southwestern Russia and southern Belarus has sparked fears of an imminent armed attack against Ukraine.

The concentration of combat-ready forces at the borders is a violation of international law

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter stipulates that “[a]ll Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….” With Russia having already annexed and occupied Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and militarily supported the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in an armed conflict against Ukraine, the current concentration of combat-ready armed forces directly threatens Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in violation of international law.

Russia’s failure to respond to Ukraine’s demands to explain the troop build-up pursuant to the Vienna Document of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Russia signed, underscores its unwillingness to abide by its political commitments to mediate disputes without recourse to force.

An unprovoked armed attack against Ukraine, if executed, may also constitute an international crime of aggression, which falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as of July 2018. The situation in Ukraine is already under the scrutiny of the ICC since 2014, as Ukraine had lodged two ad hoc declarations under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court for international crimes, other than aggression, committed on its territory since 21 November 2013. The ICC Prosecutor concluded in December 2020 that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Ukraine since November 2013.

While a full scale war would have devastating consequences in terms of civilian deaths, as well as military casualties, destruction of property, and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and migrants, the threat of armed attack has already caused irreparable economic harm to Ukraine and anxiety throughout the region, leading to the departure of international diplomatic missions and OSCE monitors, and restrictions on air travel.

“Civil society cannot stand by in silence while Russia is once again flouting its international law obligations, this is why we are launching this call to prevent armed aggression by Russia, and the inevitable explosion in violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that it would cause if diplomatic efforts are abandoned.”

said Tolekan Ismailova, FIDH Vice – President.

FIDH member organisations call on Russia to refrain from an armed attack and withdraw its armed forces from the border regions; for the international community—including the UN, OSCE, EU, and national authorities—to ramp up efforts to prevent escalation of the crisis, including through countermeasures against Russia for its ongoing breach of international law, and for Ukraine to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court.