School of Law

University of New England

2022 Kirby Seminar series


Via Webinar: 1pm AEST Thursday 5 May 2022

Is the war in Ukraine an International Law free zone?

Professor Don Rothwell

 College of Law, Australian National University

If interested and to obtain a link, please register for this Kirby Seminar at:


In this Kirby Seminar, Professor Don Rothwell will explore the question,‘ Is the war in Ukraine an international law free zone?’ Russia’s ability to launch its so-called ‘special military operation’ to undertake ‘denazification’ in Ukraine has not so far faced international legal sanction. On 25 February 2022 a draft UN Security Council Resolution was debated but failed to win support after a Russian veto. Since then the Security Council has not revisited the conflict other than a 5 April address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution on 2 March, but without Security Council backing the resolution is primarily symbolic. Compared to the exhaustive and ongoing legal and political debates over the 2003 US-led coalition intervention in Iraq, Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine may appear to have received a muted legal response. All of this raises the spectre of the Lawless World  British lawyer and author Philppe Sands wrote about in the wake of the Iraq War and the so-called global war on terror.

Despite appearances, a coordinated approach has been building to utilise multiple international legal mechanisms to make Russia responsible for its actions. While the images from across Ukraine may suggest a lawless world, that is not the case. Both international and national law is operating in the background. While international law is incapable of ending the conflict, it will eventually make some of those responsible for an ever expanding list of international law violations, war crimes, and atrocities.

Donald R Rothwell is one of Australia’s leading experts in International Law with specific focus on the law of the sea; law of the polar regions, use of force and implementation of international law within Australia. He is the author of 27 books and over 200 book chapters and articles. Don was previously Challis Professor of International Law and Director of the Sydney Centre for International and Global Law, University of Sydney (2004-2006), where he had taught since 1988. He has acted as a consultant or been a member of expert groups for UNEP, UNDP, IUCN, the Australian Government, and acted as advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).In 2012, Don was appointed an inaugural ANU Public Policy Fellow, and in 2015 elected as Fellow to the Australian Academy of Law.

He is a regular media commentator on international law issues and has written over 100 opinion comments, including for all of the major daily newspapers in Australia and ABC Online The Drum. His media interviews have included ABC TV 7.30, ABC Radio ‘AM’ and ‘PM’, ABC Radio National ‘Breakfast’, ABC News 24, Al Jazerra (TV), BBC, and the Voice of America.