Countering Imperialism in International Law: Examining the Special Tribunal for Aggression against Ukraine through a Post-Colonial Eastern European Lens

37 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2023 Last revised: 26 Mar 2024

See all articles by Patryk I. Labuda

Patryk I. Labuda

Polish Academy of Sciences - Institute of Legal Studies

Date Written: July 7, 2023

Abstract

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been met with condemnation, but the proposed Special
Tribunal for Aggression has received mixed reactions. Eastern European states support aggression prosecutions
of the Russian leadership, Western powers are cautious, while the non-Western world seems concerned about
double standards in the enforcement of international criminal law. In assessing the arguments for and against a
special tribunal from a post-colonial, Eastern European perspective, this article foregrounds Ukraine’s history of
foreign subjugation to illuminate the counter-hegemonic potential of aggression prosecutions and argues that
Russia’s ‘de-Nazification’ rhetoric speaks in favor of a reckoning with Nuremberg’s distorted legacy and neo-
imperial phantasies of a Russkiy mir. The article nuances critiques of selectivity that overlook Ukraine’s liminal
place in the global order as a post-colonial state straddling boundaries between North and South, East and West,
Europe, and Asia. By emphasizing small and weak states’ advocacy for the criminalization of aggression, it
suggests that the special tribunal may provide inspiration for anti-imperial and counter-hegemonic struggles in
other parts of the world while decolonizing myths about the Soviet Union’s benevolent role in the Second World
War and the Cold War. Against the backdrop of the ‘semi-peripheral’ status and mental maps of the ‘Global
East’, the article considers also why Ukraine has embraced international law as an emancipatory tool in its
struggle against Russia, and how this relates to Eastern European states’ advocacy of an ‘international’ over a
‘hybrid’ tribunal. In conclusion, Eastern Europeans are encouraged to embrace the counter-hegemonic
aspirations of other weaker states in the global order.

Suggested Citation

Labuda, Patryk I., Countering Imperialism in International Law: Examining the Special Tribunal for Aggression against Ukraine through a Post-Colonial Eastern European Lens (July 7, 2023). Yale Journal of International Law, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4518498

Patryk I. Labuda (Contact Author)

Polish Academy of Sciences - Institute of Legal Studies ( email )

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