Article: International Law in the Face of Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine: The View from Lviv

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By any measure, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is devastating. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, over 10,000 civilians have been killed and more than half a million people injured, across a landscape now littered with landmines and precariously situated nuclear facilities. Moreover, around 3.7 million civilians have been internally displaced, over 6 million sought refuge abroad, and 14.6 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. If one goes back to its annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas in 2014, the number is much higher. This is, of course, the story of war – always and everywhere.

The horror of war is a reality that was very present for those who drafted the U.N. Charter in 1945. The 51 states who then comprised the newly formed United Nations sought, under article 2(4) of the Charter, to end the resort to war as a legitimate means of statecraft once and for all. Today, the 193 Member States of the U.N., including many that were still under colonial rule in the aftermath of World War II, disagree on many issues—yet the idea of sovereignty as a bulwark against outright subjection by a foreign power remains foundational.

Against this backdrop, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has raised a host of complex issues—first and foremost for Ukrainians, but also for each and every state in relation to international law. What does (and should) sovereign immunity mean in the face of aggression? What role can sanctions play in moderating the behavior of a state that deliberately violates the foundational rules of international law? How can compensation be secured for the victims of war? What is the role of international law in wartime? The debates over these questions, and many more, draw from and reflect upon challenges, both similar and distinct, in conflicts far beyond Ukraine’s borders.

In partnership with the Ukrainian Association of International Law, who worked with other important stakeholders such as the Ukrainian Bar Association, the American Society of International Law helped to convene, from Dec. 7-10, 2023, a gathering of international lawyers in Lviv, in western Ukraine.

Neither the date, nor the location, was by chance. Dec. 9, 2023, marked the 75th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Dec. 10, 2023, marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Summit was held in the hall at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv – the very same hall in which Nazi lawyer Governor-General Hans Frank gave his infamous “final solution” speech. Summit participants gathered for a different purpose.

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International Law in the Face of Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine: The View from Lviv