U.N. Court dismiss Ukraine’s claims on MH17 and Crimea

A U.N. court ruled on Wednesday that Russia violated two international treaties in its actions towards Ukraine, but did not address Kyiv’s claims on the MH17 crash and Crimea annexation.

Ukraine and Russian flags, and a judge's gavel.

On Wednesday, the highest court of the U.N. ruled that Russia broke parts of a U.N. treaty against terrorism, but did not make a decision on Kyiv’s claims that Moscow was behind the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also ruled that Russia violated another treaty against discrimination by not supporting the education of the Ukrainian language in Crimea after it took over the region in 2014.

The rulings were a disappointment for Kyiv. The court did not accept Ukraine’s demands to order Russia to pay for the damages and only ordered Russia to follow the treaties.

Ukraine’s representative Anton Korynevych said the judgment was important for Kyiv because it showed that Russia broke international law. He said to journalists after the ruling, “This is the first time that Russia is officially, legally called a breaker of international law.”

Ukraine had sued Russia at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, in 2017, saying that Russia broke an anti-terrorism treaty by giving money to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

The judges of the court said that Russia broke the U.N.’s anti-terrorism treaty by not looking into possible claims that some money went from Russia to Ukraine to maybe fund terrorist activities. The panel of 16 judges told Russia to look into any possible claims of terrorism funding but did not agree to Kyiv’s demand for money.

The court did not make a decision on the crash of MH17, saying that breaking the rule of funding terrorism only meant giving money and not giving weapons or training as Ukraine said. Ukraine had said that Russia gave the missile system that shot down the plane, but it did not say that Russia gave money for that.

In a hearing at the court in The Hague last June, Russia said that Ukraine’s claims that it gave money and controlled pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were not true and “clear lies”.

In the case, which has taken almost seven years, Kyiv had said that Russia gave weapons and money to pro-Russian forces, including rebels who shot down MH17 in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board. In November 2022, a court in the Netherlands gave two Russians and a Ukrainian life in prison for their part in the disaster.

In Crimea, Ukraine had said that Russia was trying to get rid of the culture of ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians. The court did not agree with any of the claims about the Tatars but said that Russia did not do enough to help the education of the Ukrainian language.

The court’s decisions are final and cannot be changed, but it has no power to make sure they are followed. On Friday, the ICJ will make a decision in another case where Ukraine has said that Russia used the 1948 Genocide Convention wrongly to explain its Feb. 24, 2022, attack.

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