The European Court of Human Rights said the cases brought by Ukraine and the Netherlands against Russia for alleged human rights violations in Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, and the downing of flight MH17, were admissible.
The decision does not rule on the merits of the cases, but it does show that the court in Strasbourg believes that Russia can be held liable for violations of rights in the separatist regions.
“Among other things, the Court ruled that areas in eastern Ukraine in separatist hands from May 11, 2014 until at least January 26, 2022, fell under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation,” the Court said in a ruling on Wednesday.
Things are now moving to the bottom stage, it is expected to take another one to two years before a final decision is made.
Opens the door to more cases
The ECtHR’s ruling opens the door to at least three other Ukrainian state cases against Russia, as well as thousands of individual cases, which had been suspended pending a decision on jurisdiction.
“This is a clear signal to Russia,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra tweeted, saying the court’s decision to declare the cases admissible was “an important milestone”.
The impact of any ruling will be largely political, as Russia’s parliament voted in June to end the ECtHR’s jurisdiction in the country, previously ignoring ECtHR rulings it disagreed with.
The court says it has jurisdiction in cases brought before Moscow withdrew from the ECHR summons, and Russia could be ordered to pay damages, but the court has no way of enforcing its rulings .
The court’s finding that Moscow controlled the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine echoes a ruling by the Dutch court last November that, as of mid-May 2014, Moscow had “overall control” over the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Dutch judges have handed down life sentences in absentia to two Russian men and a Ukrainian man for their role in the downing of flight MH17, which killed 298 passengers and crew.
The Malaysian Airlines flight was departing from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over separatist-held eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, as fighting raged between pro-Russian and Ukrainian government forces.
The Netherlands filed a case with the ECtHR in 2020, saying that the shooting down of flight MH17 was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the destruction of the plane.
The two Ukrainian cases, which date back to 2014, concern what Kiev says are Russia’s administrative practices in eastern Ukraine in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the abduction and transfer to Russia of three groups of Ukrainian orphans . children and children without parental care, and a number of adults accompanying them.
All were returned to Ukraine one day or, in the third case, five days after their abduction, the ECtHR said.