Russia boycotted hearings at the U.N.’s highest court on Monday during which Ukraine is seeking an emergency order to halt hostilities, arguing that Moscow has falsely applied genocide law to justify its invasion.
Hearings began at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) without legal representation for Russia.
“The fact that Russia’s seats are empty speaks loudly. They are not here in this court of law: they are on a battlefield waging an aggressive war against my country,” Ukrainian envoy Anton Korynevych said.
He urged Russia to “lay down your arms and put forward your evidence.”
The court said it regretted Russia’s non-attendance. A hearing initially set for Tuesday for Russia to present its case is expected to be cancelled. In earlier cases before the ICJ where a party did not show up to present its side the court ruled without input from such parties.
Countries usually, but do not always, follow the court’s orders, which are legally binding. A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands did not reply to a request for comment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s “special military action” is needed “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide” – meaning those whose first or only language is Russian in eastern Ukraine.
Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in two eastern breakaway regions of the country since 2014, with some 15,000 people killed, according to the government in Kyiv.
A leading association of genocide scholars has backed Ukraine and Western powers’ view that Russia was misappropriating the term genocide to describe the treatment of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.
“There is absolutely no evidence that there is genocide going on in Ukraine,” Melanie O’Brien, president of international Association of Genocide Scholars, told Reuters.
Russia’s new invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24. Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in the assault. The official U.N. civilian death toll is 364, including more than 20 children, though officials say the true toll is probably higher.
“Putin lies and Ukrainians -our citizens – die,” Korynevych told the court.
The case centres on the interpretation of a 1948 treaty on the prevention of genocide, signed by both countries. The treaty names the ICJ as the forum for resolving disputes between signatories.
Kyiv’s envoy stressed on Monday that Moscow was violating and abusing the treaty by using it as a justification for war.
“Russia must be stopped and the court has a role to play in stopping it,” Korynevych told the judges as he asked for them to impose emergency measures.
The ICJ is the highest court for resolving disputes between states, and while cases there usually take years, it has a fast-track procedure to look at requests for “provisional measures,” to prevent a situation from worsening.