Ukraine turns to U.S. law firm Quinn Emanuel in Russia human rights case

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The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

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  • Firm will represent Ukraine pro bono in a case before European human rights court
  • Court to decide whether it can hear Russian cases after Moscow dropped out of Europe's human rights watchdog

(Reuters) - Ukraine has hired a team from U.S. law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to represent it before the European Court of Human Rights in a petition filed in response to Russia's invasion.

The court earlier this month issued an interim measure calling on Russia to "refrain from military attacks against civilians and civilian objects," in response to a petition filed by the Ukraine Ministry of Justice. The Quinn Emanuel attorneys, led by London-based partners Julianne Hughes-Jennett and Alex Gerbi, will represent Ukraine pro bono in future proceedings in the case.

"Ukraine and its legal team are deeply committed to ensuring that Russia’s egregious conduct is subjected to full scrutiny before the Strasbourg Court and that Russia is held to account for its heinous ongoing breaches of the most fundamental rules of international law which are causing such devastation to Ukraine and its people," the firm said in a statement.

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Ukraine filed the initial petition last month, citing "massive human rights violations being committed by the Russian troops" and requesting an urgent order from the court against the alleged violations. Russia claims its invasion of Ukraine is a "special military operation" aimed at protecting the country from Nazis, claims called baseless by Kyiv and its Western supporters.

The legal team also includes attorneys with Blackstone Chambers led by Timothy Otty, and lawyers from Twenty Essex led by Guglielmo Verdirame.

It is unclear whether complaints against Russia can even be heard by the court after Russia last week withdrew from the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog. The court, the council’s judicial arm, last week said it was suspending all petitions against Moscow “pending its consideration of the legal consequences” of Russia’s exit.

The Council of Europe's decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, enforces the court's decisions.

Hughes-Jennett said in an email Tuesday that the court is expected to rule Wednesday on the matter and "attorneys are "monitoring the situation."

Gerbi, the co-managing partner of Quinn Emanuel's London office, has previously represented Ukraine. The firm last year disclosed, through papers submitted by Gerbi, that it planned some "political activity" in the United States on behalf of Ukraine as part of its defense of the country in a long-running $3 billion bond dispute with Russia in England.

U.S. law firm Covington & Burling is separately representing Ukraine pro bono before the International Court of Justice, which hears disputes between states. The court earlier this month ordered Russia to halt military operations in Ukraine, but Russia has not complied with the ruling.

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Jacqueline Thomsen, based in Washington, D.C., covers legal news related to policy, the courts and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at jacqueline.thomsen@thomsonreuters.com.