ON February 24, an offensive by the Russian armed forces was launched on Ukrainian territory, under what was presented as a ‘special military operation’.
Consequently, there has been increasing condemnation of a clear violation of the principle of the prohibition of the use of force, enshrined in Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter.
Paradoxically, the Security Council, which has primary responsibility for maintaining world peace, has remained paralysed.
As the decision-making body of the UN, the Council is composed of 15 members, including five permanent members (the US, the UK, France, China and Russia), all with a right of veto.
Within this body, Russia therefore has a privileged position, which allows it to block any decision to condemn and, a fortiori, any decision to impose sanctions on it.
However, the use by the aggressor state of its right of veto to escape condemnation appears both cynical and unacceptable.
Cynical, because the right of veto was conceived as the counterpart of respect for the values of peace underlying the UN Charter.
Unacceptable, because an abusive use of the right of veto undermines the credibility of the UN.
In the absence of condemnation by the Security Council, and while the outcome of the proceedings before the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court remains uncertain, the General Assembly voted on a resolution on March 2 denouncing the aggression against Ukraine.
Even if it is regrettable that the resolution is devoid of binding force, still its political weight is considerable.
Out of a total of 193 member states, 141 voted in favour of the resolution, and only five voted against it (Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Russia and Syria).
This measures the isolation of the Russian regime on the international scene and supports other sanctions initiatives.
Since the beginning of the conflict, there has been an avalanche of sanctions against Russia. Whether it is the European Union that has adopted a series of economic and financial sanctions, NATO that has reinforced its troops in the Baltic countries, the Council of Europe that has suspended Russia’s rights of representation, world sports organisations that have banned Russian teams from competitions, and even the many states that have taken individual or concerted sanctions, the mobilisation is vast.
This unprecedented profusion of sanctions demonstrates that, even if the Security Council is powerless, the unity of the international community makes it possible to adopt draconian measures against violators of international law, irrespective of the fact that they are strong states.
It will thus be a matter of maintaining them in the hope of making Vladimir Putin’s regime bend.
In the longer term, it will also be a matter of showing the same unity in the face of other serious violations, in order to avoid the double standards that are so prejudicial to international law.
Catherine Maia is Professor of International Law at the Lusófona University of Porto, Portugal, and Visiting Professor at Sciences Po Paris, France