Law professor provides inside look at Ukraine’s reparations efforts

Law professor Chiara Giorgetti is part of a team of experts advising Ukraine on reparations and other claims following the Russian invasion of that country. She is one of five senior fellows named to the working project, created at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and based at Columbia University.

“Professor Giorgetti is one the leading experts on claims commissions, and her work on the Ukraine project is incredibly important,” said Wendy Perdue, dean of the University of Richmond School of Law. “Her research, scholarship, and teaching provide critical insight into this issue.”

Giorgetti recently explained how the work of the International Claims and Reparations Project contributes to the peaceful settlement of disputes.

How do you establish a framework for reparations before the conflict is over?

In international law, it’s very clear when there is a violation that there is an obligation by the state that violated the law to provide reparations, which can take different forms. There can be monetary compensation for the damage that was suffered or restitution, for example, to restore the situation that existed before. When a historical monument is stolen, for example, then it must be given back. 

We are in a situation where Russia has violated international law, and that violation has caused a lot of damages. Under international law, what is the best way to ensure reparation? In this case we want compensation.

Is there a precedent for this?

There are many historical examples, many before World War I. But after World War II, there were also several interesting examples that we examined.

The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) was created by the Security Council to provide compensation for companies, individuals, and states that suffered as a consequence of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Some of the situations are similar, in that when Iraq invaded Kuwait, a lot of people had to flee. A lot of Ukrainians had to leave their place of residence. With these similarities, how can you ensure compensation for those individuals? 

We know the damages have occurred already, and we know that people are owed compensation, so there’s really no need to wait. But, it’s much better to try to collect the evidence as soon as possible. In a state of war it becomes more difficult to maintain the evidence collection as the conflict continues. So, it’s important to collect the evidence now to ensure that we have proof of what has happened and what the claims are.

How did you get involved?

I’ve worked on the claims commission for a long time, including on UNCC claims. Then I joined a firm that represented Iraq in the Claims Commission. I also represented Eritrea in the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission. So, I have a lot of expertise in this area, which is unique because it’s kind of a niche issue.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, a lot of international lawyers felt the need to do something, because it was such an egregious violation of international law. And we all thought: ‘What can we do to help and put our expertise to use to ensure that this doesn’t happen again — or that it stopped as soon as possible?’ It was mostly discussions that occurred among a small group of people, and then President Zelenskyy appointed me to this group of experts, all with expertise in claims commissions.

Why is this work important to you?

When you think about international law, the work is important because it’s something that can be used to provide real benefits. I find the issue of compensation an important one because it provides direct remedies to violations of public international law. It’s not just theoretical, but it is very real and impactful.

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