Annexation of Crimea as an International Crime

On 31 March, Dr. Aaron Matta participated in a panel discussion entitled  “Annexation of Crimea as an International Crime”. The event was organized by the Centre for Global Affairs at Leiden University.

The event started with a presentation by professor Oleksander Zadorozhnii, President of the Ukrainian Association of International Law and Head of International Law Department, Institute of International Relations of Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. Professor Zadoroznii presented his views on the illegality of the actions carried out in Crimea by the Russian Federation. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion and a questions and answers session. The panelists included Ambassador of Ukraine to the Kingdom of the Netherlands Olexander Horin; Dr. Matta, Senior Researcher at the Hague Institute for Global Justice; Dr. Sijbren de Jong Strategic Analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies; and Vasyl Myroshnychenko Co-Founder, Ukraine Crisis Media Centre.

During the panel discussion panelists addressed the Crimea situation from different perspectives. Dr. Matta emphasized that the international and regional mechanisms of security, peace and accountability had been incapable or are ill equipped to address this challenging situation. This is the case of the UN Security Council,  for example due to Russia’s veto power. In addition, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, Dr. Matta explained, only kicks in once at least thirty states ratify the Kampala amendments scheduled for 2017. Nevertheless, the ICC cannot exercise jurisdiction with respect this crime retroactively.

Additionally, Dr. Matta, drew some comparisons with the 1986 Nicaragua case at the ICJ regarding state support to armed groups and military movements on and near foreign territory and their potential legal consequences. However, the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) compulsory jurisdiction is not recognized by the Russian Federation.

Finally, Dr. Matta, highlighted two major threats posed by the Crimean precedent. First, the delicate balance between two key principles in international law – on which the peace and stability of the current global order are based on – are being eroded after Russian actions in Crimea. This opens the doors to more instability in the region, and within Russia itself, but also other parts of the world. Secondly, while no serious comparison can be drawn to other cases such as Kosovo, one important difference has to be pointed out. Unlike, Crimea where Russia took actions unilaterally, the situations in Kosovo as well as in  East-Timor and South Sudan  were dealt with using the UN system as a mechanism to achieve peace and security. For these reasons, the international community should stand together with regards the policy of non-recognition towards Crimea and continue the imposition of sanctions to show that the international legal order is not to be meddled with.

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