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Strategic Litigation in Wartime

By: Michael Ramsden

Ukraine’s recent initiation of legal proceedings against Russia under the Genocide Convention is a prominent example of what has been termed “strategic litigation,” denoting the bringing of a case with a goal to produce a wider impact beyond the courtroom. In Allegations of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russia), Ukraine sought a series of declarations from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Russia’s decision to use force in Ukraine, and its ongoing operation, was unlawful, insofar as such a decision rested on the prevention of genocide. Given that the ICJ does not have the jurisdiction to determine whether Russia has committed aggression, Ukraine creatively argued that Russia has abused its rights under the Genocide Convention as a pretext for its unlawful use of force. It also sought and obtained provisional measures obliging Russia to suspend its military operations.

The purpose of this Article is to evaluate the efficacy of this strategic litigation through an examination of the participants’ goals, the court’s strategic choices, and the discernible impact of the provisional measures’ decision so far. In turn, this Article contributes to the scholarly literature on strategic litigation impact, the role of judicial institutions in ongoing armed conflicts. It also provides a basic structure for future researchers to consider the longer-term impact of this case in the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

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Jun 06, 2023

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