Ukraine accuses Russia of 'terrorism' in top UN court

Jan HENNOP
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A pro-Russian separatist guards Donetsk International Airport in eastern Ukraine

Ukraine urged the UN's top court on Monday to help bring stability to its war-torn east, seeking to convince judges that Russia is "sponsoring terrorism" in Kiev's conflict with separatist pro-Russian rebels.

"Today I stand before the court to ask for the protection of the basic human rights of the Ukrainian people," Kiev's deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

"Thousands of innocent Ukrainians have already suffered deadly attacks," she said.

Zerkal later told journalists on the steps outside the Peace Palace courthouse that "Ukraine will win this case because we are on the right side."

Russia's representatives did not comment after the three-hour hearing, but a large delegation is present in The Hague. They will put the Kremlin's case on Tuesday.

Nearly three years of conflict have claimed about 10,000 lives in eastern Ukraine -- and led to Russia's seizure of Ukraine's southern peninsula of Crimea in 2014 -- pushing ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

- 'Human rights emergency' -

Zerkal told the court that Kiev was only seeking "a measure of stability and calm in an unpredictable and dangerous situation."

Ukraine is asking the ICJ to impose emergency measures ordering Russia to stop its alleged funnelling of money, weapons and personnel into the east, and to halt what it called "discrimination" against minorities in Russian-occupied Crimea.

It is also seeking compensation for attacks on civilians during the conflict including victims of Malaysia Airways flight MH17, shot down in 2014 over eastern Ukraine with the loss of all 298 lives on board.

Moscow has long denied arming the rebels and has said the case is motivated only "by political interests".

It also says Kiev has "shown a lack of will to hold a concrete dialogue."

Moscow has denied any involvement in the MH17 disaster and instead points the finger at Kiev.

Ukraine lodged its case at the ICJ against its former Soviet master in mid-January, saying it had protested for several years against Moscow's alleged financing of separatist rebels battling Ukrainian government forces.

Kiev says that Moscow has "largely failed" to respond to its efforts to resolve the dispute and that "further negotiations would be futile."

Ukraine "respectfully requests the court to adjudge and declare that the Russian Federation bears international responsibility by virtue of its sponsorship of terrorism... for the acts of terrorism committed by its proxies in Ukraine," it said in papers before the court.

Ukraine was now facing a "human rights emergency," said Harold Hongju Koh, another of Kiev's representatives, adding that "in Crimea, Russia must cease its campaign of cultural erasure."

- Failed talks -

Rare recent talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin proved "fruitless", the Ukrainian presidency has said.

Poroshenko hailed the start of the four days of hearings Monday, calling it "a historic moment" on his Facebook page.

"The truth is stronger than weapons!" he wrote.

The hearings come after a surge in the violence which killed 35 people in early February, centred around the government-held town of Avdiivka near the rebel bastion of Donetsk.

Moscow also "brazenly defied" the UN Charter by seizing Ukraine's southern peninsula of Crimea, Kiev said in its filing, accusing Russia of discriminating against Crimean minorities such as Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.

Ukraine is seeking "full reparations for... acts of terrorism the Russian Federation has caused, facilitated or supported," it said.

The ICJ was set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between countries.

While UN member nations are bound to abide by the tribunal's decisions, the court's ruling is unlikely to have much concrete effect on the ground, experts said.

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