Ukrainian Association of International Law: Ukraine’s Government is Legitimate

Kyiv, March 21, 2014. The current government of Ukraine is legitimate, Russia performed an act of aggression against Ukraine, the Crimean Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea. These and other statements were released by the Ukrainian Association of International Law (UAIL) on March 20, 2014, during a press briefing at the Institute of International Relations of National Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv.

During a press briefing held by members of the UAIL, including Oleksandr Zadorozhniy, Mykhailo Buromenskyi, Vsevolod Mytsyk, Boris Babin, Olha Butkevich, Mykola Gnatovskyi, Serhij Kozjakov, Dmytro Kuleba, Svitlana Melnyk, the panel of experts made the following statements:

– “Reformatting of the government” in Ukraine is fully legal and occurred as a result of Mr. Yanukovych’s failure to stand by the agreement signed on February 21, 2014, through his dissociation/disappearance; the appointment of an acting President and the election of the Government was performed in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine of December 8, 2004.

– The Russian Federation performed an act of aggression against Ukraine and occupied the territory of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, violating all principles of international legislation laid down in the UN Charter, as well as other universal, regional and local rules of international law.

– Despite the absence of active hostilities so far, the very fact of military occupation of the territory of Ukraine by the Russian Federation indicates an international armed conflict, therefore the entire body of international humanitarian law and The Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12 1949 in particular, imposes responsibility for adhering to international obligations in terms of protecting the civilians on an occupying state, which makes the Russian Federation responsible for all the violations of the international obligations concerning human rights protection on the occupied territory.

– There is no such notion as “the nation of Crimea”, as the residents of Crimea do not fall within the definition of “nation” in the international law, hence justifying either  the aggression or the military occupation by the Russian Federation on the grounds of  “self determination of the people of Crimea” has no legal basis at all.

– Crimean Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea according to the norms of international law (in particular The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2006).

– Apart from general conditions for the safety of countries according to universal and international customary law, the Budapest memorandum of 1994 was an additional guarantee of Ukraine’s security as long as it becomes a non-nuclear state and joins NPT. The Memorandum, however, cannot be treated as a cooperative agreement that guarantees the security of Ukraine, which makes signing such an agreement the most urgent challenge for Ukraine’s foreign policy.

– The right of the Russian Federation to act as “the only legal successor to the USSR” in terms of the USSR rights and obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is highly questionable. The states which signed this agreement in 1992, including Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan, have a right to raise the question of its termination, which has a legal perspective and is evidence-based.

– The rights of Ukrainian citizens on the territory of the occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea should be subject to special protection not only by contractual but also by customary rules of international humanitarian law and international law on human rights. These rules should be taken into consideration during the revision of the draft law on the rights of citizens on a temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine in its preparation to the second reading.

Despite its lack of legitimacy, on March 16, 2014, voting on the so- called Crimean plebiscite did take place. Shortly after 8 p.m., exit polls showed that 93 percent of voters opted for Crimea to become a part of Russia, with voter turnout exceeding 85 percent, according to Kryminform, the commission responsible for holding the referendum.

Notably, the referendum was reported to have been held with multiple violations including allowing foreign citizens to vote. Interestingly, Mykhailo Malyshev, Chair of the Crimea Supreme Council Referendum Commission, stated that in Sevastopol alone 474,137 voters participated in the “referendum.” If one takes into account that in late 2013 there were 385,462 citizens in Sevastopol, according to the Sevastopol Statistics Service, the city’s voter turnout exceeded 123 percent.