The UN’s top court has said it has jurisdiction to hear a case brought against Russia by Ukraine.
Kyiv brought the case at The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of falsely using genocide law to justify its brutal invasion which continues.
Russia says it intervened in Ukraine to prevent a genocidal attack on ethnic Russians in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian representative Anton Korynevych welcomed the decision.
“It is important that the court will decide on the issue that Ukraine is not responsible for some mythical genocide which the Russian Federation falsely alleged that Ukraine… has been committing since 2014 in Donbas,” he said.
While the case centres on the 1948 Genocide Convention, Kyiv does not accuse Moscow of committing genocide in Ukraine.
Instead, it says Russia violated the genocide treaty by resorting to it to justifying the invasion.
Ukraine maintains there was no risk of genocide in the east of the country, where it had been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014.
It adds that the genocide treaty does not, in any case, permit an invasion to stop an alleged genocide.
Moscow argues Ukraine is using the case as a roundabout way to get a ruling on the overall legality of Russia’s military action and has asked for it to be thrown out.
A record 32 states have filed submissions on the issue.
More than two dozen European states, as well as Australia and Canada, have backed Kyiv by giving formal statements to the ICJ.
On Friday, judges said the ICJ had jurisdiction to rule on Ukraine’s request for the court to declare that Kyiv has not committed genocide.
However, judges will not rule on whether Russia’s invasion or recognition of the independence of areas in eastern Ukraine amount to a violation of the Genocide Convention as those claims fall under different international laws.
The ruling is an important procedural step, which means the case continues.
The 1948 UN Genocide Convention defined genocide as crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.
ICJ rulings are legally binding but cannot be enforced by the court itself.