Ukraine: International law must be respected

As the Russian Federation launches a military invasion of Ukraine, its forces and those of other parties to the conflict must respect international law and protect civilian lives, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) urged today.

“The priority of all parties must now be to protect the lives, safety and needs of those affected by the conflict, particularly the civilian population, in accordance with obligations under international law. Violations of these obligations can and must lead to criminal responsibility of the perpetrators” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary General

Russia’s military intervention, in breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter which prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a state, puts the human rights of people across Ukraine at grave risk.

The Russian Federation should cease its belligerent incursion into Ukrainian territory as required by the UN Charter, the ICJ stressed.

In this situation of international armed conflict, all parties are bound to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law. This requires that they protect the lives of civilians. Direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are strictly prohibited. All parties must also refrain from indiscriminate attacks which do not distinguish between civilian or military targets. Disproportionate attacks, which cause an excessive loss of life or injury to civilians or civilian infrastructure are similarly prohibited, and violation of these rules constitutes a war crime.

Both Russia and Ukraine also remain bound by obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, even in a situation of armed conflict. Certain rights including the right to life, freedom from torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, and the essential elements of a fair trial, must always be upheld, even where a temporary derogation from certain human rights treaty obligations is permitted in a state of emergency, to the extent strictly necessary to meet a threat to the life of the nation.

In the areas of Ukrainian territory where Russia exercises effective control, Russian military and civilian authorities are bound by obligations under international human rights law as well as the obligations of an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

All parties to the conflict must facilitate humanitarian assistance, and uphold the economic and social rights of those within the territory they control.

International mechanisms should do all in their power to ensure accountability for violations of international law relating to the conflict in Ukraine, including the crime of aggression.

Contact: Róisín Pillay, Director Europe and Central Asia Programme,