U.N. lawyers denounce Russia’s ‘illegal war of aggression,’ warn of nuclear danger
Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. The woman and her baby died after Russia bombed the maternity hospital where she was meant to give birth. | Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine is a “clear violation of international law” and “an illegal war of aggression.” That according to the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy, the body which acts as the United Nations office of legal scholars working to abolish nuclear weapons.

The Lawyers Committee does not mince words in its statement issued in the wake of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor to the west. The group said that the people of Ukraine are experiencing “terror, suffering, and death” and that none of the “rationales offered by Putin withstand even minimal scrutiny.”

Further, the LCNP declared that the fighting in Ukraine dangerously raises the risk that nuclear weapons could be used, “whether intentionally or by miscalculation,” and exposes the people of the entire world to the possibility of mass death and destruction.

LCNP was founded in 1981 as a non-profit educational association of lawyers and legal scholars researching and advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons at the United Nations. At the U.N., it represents the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and seeks resolution to conflicts, and promotes respect for international laws concerning peace and the crimes of war. The LCNP is a member of the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice, which was formed in the aftermath of 9/11.

In its statement, the Committee laid out the legal case against the Russian invasion in detail.

Putin’s order to cross the Ukrainian border violates the Charter of the United Nations, Article 2(4), according to LCNP, which forbids the threat or use of force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” The Russian Federation, it argued, has no basis to claim self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter, therefore stripping it of any right to unilaterally send troops into Ukraine.

“The use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state”—the act Russia has committed, the LCNP said, “is inconsistent with the Charter.”

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines acts of aggression and the crimes associated with them, is also cited. The Lawyers Committee quoted the section of the Statute that says “waging a war of aggression is a crime against peace” and reminded Putin and Russian military commanders that “the leaders of the Third Reich were convicted of that crime” at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

LCNP Senior Analyst John Burroughs pointed to Russia’s actions as the “proximate,” or immediate cause of the crisis, but also enumerated what he called “longer-term causes.”

These include the “utterly reckless declaration” by former U.S. President George W. Bush that NATO membership was open to Ukraine and Georgia, both former republics of the Soviet Union, as well as the long history of the U.S. and NATO disregarding “Russian security interests and proposals” since the mid-1990s.

The U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that had been agreed to with the USSR during the Cold War and the placement of U.S. missile facilities in Romania and Poland are further background context to the current war, according to Burroughs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko watch military drills via videoconference in Moscow, Feb. 19, 2022. The Russian military conducted massive drills of its strategic nuclear forces just before invading Ukraine, including multiple launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Included in the launches was the Yars RS-24 nuclear-capable missile, seen being fired on Feb. 19 in the top left photo and on its mobile launcher in the bottom photo during a parade in Red Square in May 2021. | Photos via AP

However, as his organization’s statement was direct in declaring, “That in no way, legally or morally, serves to justify Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Making the situation more dangerous, according to the LCNP, is Putin’s thinly-veiled threat to use nuclear weapons if other countries intervene in the war. Ordering Russia’s nuclear forces to combat readiness in late February, Putin said anyone who interfered in his country’s military operations in Ukraine may face “consequences they have never seen.”

On the same day, Russian ally Belarus revoked its nuclear-free status, opening the way for Russian nuclear weapons to be stationed on its territory. Test firings of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles were also carried out by Russia in late February.

The threat of the use of nuclear weapons, according to LCNP, also goes against the U.N. Charter. Furthermore, it is widely recognized around the globe that “the use of nuclear weapons is illegal under humanitarian law,” particularly because it is impossible to discriminate between military targets and civilians when using them.

The move also clashes with a Jan. 5, 2022, joint statement issued by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France re-affirming the principle agreed to by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“Diplomacy,” Burroughs said, “is the only rational path” ahead.

The Lawyers Committee called for “both sides”—Russia and Ukraine—to “comply with international humanitarian law, respect human rights,” and provide access to aid. An immediate ceasefire and dialogue are the only ways to de-escalate, it said.

It called for the U.N. to play a stronger role in bringing about peace and said the nations of the world must pressure Russia to pull back from Ukraine—and from the nuclear brink.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.