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While the world is largely united against the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, South African public figures, including the government, have attempted to downplay that it is, in fact, an invasion. And their frequent calls for negotiation tend to present the conflict as one in which both sides should be prepared to make concessions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has even reported that Russian president Vladimir Putin appreciates his ‘balanced approach’ to the conflict. So what does international law say about one country sending armed troops across a border and shelling another’s towns? The answer calls for some historical background.

After World War II ended in 1945, the United Nations was established. Its first stated purpose was

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind

To this end, it emphasised that the global order was based on the sovereignty of states) (article 2(1)) and outlawed the use of force by one state against another (article 2(4)).

There are only two, narrowly defined exceptions in the United Nations Charter, the world body’s founding document, to the prohibition on the use of force. These are met when states act either in self defence or under the authorisation of the UN Security Council. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can, therefore, be legal only if it falls within one of those exceptions.

This article is republished from The Conversation Africa under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.