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What meaningful action could the United Nations take to help Ukraine?


As Russians of fighting age flee to avoid conscription, much of the world is still trying to put enough pressure on Russia to stop the war. Here's Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on CBS "Face The Nation," speaking through a translator.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) They do not want any dialogue. We see referenda or we see mobilization that's emphasizing their will.

FADEL: The United Nations General Assembly meeting could have been a place to make progress, but there's been no significant movement. So what can the U.N. do at this point? To explore that question, we're joined by Oona Hathaway. She's a law professor at Yale who used to work with the Department of Defense. Oona Hathaway is on the line from Paris. Good morning. Thanks for being on the program.

OONA HATHAWAY: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So let's start with that question. What meaningful action could the United Nations take to put pressure on Russia or to stop Russia's war on Ukraine?

HATHAWAY: Well, the United Nations took a first important step back in March, shortly after the invasion, when it voted to deplore Russian aggression and voted - 141 members of the United Nations - against the invasion and only five members voting with Russia to oppose the General Assembly resolution. The International Court of Justice, which is a body of the United Nations, has also ordered Russia to suspend its military operations. And there have been a number of other important symbolic moves, suspending Russia, for instance, from the Human Rights Council.

But it is important to note that because Russia is a member of the Security Council - it's one of the permanent five members of the Security Council - that limits what the United Nations can do in terms of enforcement action. So it can't, for instance, order a military invasion. And there are a number of other enforcement measures that, ordinarily, the U.N. would have at its disposal that it can't with regard to a Security Council member.

FADEL: So it sounds like a lot of the moves are symbolic. So really, what type of pressure can actually come to play, and what type of accountability could come to play for Russia?

HATHAWAY: Well, symbolism matters. And it's important to remember that these denunciations of the war and declarations of the war as acts of aggression help set the stage for really important enforcement actions that followed by individual states. So it helped legitimate the unprecedented global sanctions against Russia and the really, truly unprecedented marshalling of resources to support Ukraine in opposing the war of aggression by Russia. So while it's symbolic, that symbolism really matters because it enables states and companies and others to respond to Russian aggression and to recognize that the world sees it as aggression. It's not just individual states that are deploring it but the institution as a whole.

FADEL: Now, the world has seen evidence of atrocities in areas that the Ukrainian military took back from Russia - bodies in the streets, mass graves discovered, accusations of mass rape. But now, Ukraine nor Russia are parties - state parties to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. So what type or what path to accountability could there be for these alleged crimes?

HATHAWAY: Well, there's already investigations underway by the International Criminal Court. And as you said, Ukraine and Russia are not state parties to the Rome Statute, but Ukraine, back in 2014, agreed to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. And so that does give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that have been committed in Ukraine since 2014. And so there is already significant investigations.

I would expect that there will be prosecutions at the International Criminal Court. Those wheels turn slowly, but they do turn. And there will be, I expect, trials taking place in the International Criminal Court. In addition, the Ukrainian courts themselves have been already beginning trials for war crimes. So we have international accountability, but we also have accountability in Ukraine.

FADEL: Professor Oona Hathaway of Yale University, thank you so much for joining us and exploring that question with us.

HATHAWAY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.