MOSCOW, August 30 (RAPSI, Ingrid Burke) – The UK Government published its legal position Thursday for the use of military force in Syria in response to the suspected chemical attack that occurred on August 21 near Damascus.
The document asserts that the use of chemical weaponry constitutes a serious crime of international concern and a breach of customary international law, amounting to a war crime and a crime against humanity.
However, the government asserts that “the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.”
The theory is premised on the Syrian regime bearing responsibility for the suspected attack. According to RIA Novosti, Syrian opposition claimed the attack was perpetrated by government forces, while the Syrian government denied the allegations and said it had evidence of rebel groups using chemical weapons.
The legality of such an intervention has remained a key issue, as reiterated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who explained during a press conference in Moscow Monday, as quoted by RIA Novosti that, “Paris and London are both calling for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria even without approval from the UN Security Council. This is a very dangerous, slippery slope.”
Chapter VII of the UN Charter vests the UNSC with broad power to maintain or restore international peace and security in cases where such is sincerely threatened or breached. This chapter has served as the basis for some of the UN’s most high-profile international justice initiatives, from the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to the 2011 Libya intervention. As suggested by the latter, Chapter VII goes so far as to explicitly provide for the use of force in certain, dire contexts.
According to Article 42 of Chapter VII: “Should the Security Council consider that [various economic and diplomatic sanctions] would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.”
While this provision is fairly straight forward, the key issue is clear: any action taken in accordance with Article 42 requires something of an agreement, at least between the five permanent members of the UN: Russia, China, France, the US, and the UK. Each of these five member nations has a veto power that can singlehandedly derail any substantive Chapter VII initiative.
The UK Government’s legal position noted that efforts would be made to seek a UNSC resolution under Chapter VII, but noted that previous efforts had been unsuccessful.
Still, according to the document, “If action in the Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
Claiming confidence that the attack was perpetrated by the Assad regime, the UK Government asserted that humanitarian intervention would be justified based on the theory that the present situation satisfies the following three-part test.
The first part of the test requires that, “there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief.” To this point, the legal note focuses more on the gravity of the humanitarian situation than on the “generally accepted by the international community as a whole” part, outlining casualty and refugee statistics.
The second part of requires that, “it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and.” To this point, the document referenced the UNSC process, arguing that, “Previous attempts by the UK and its international partners to secure a resolution of this conflict, end its associated humanitarian suffering and prevent the use of chemical weapons through meaningful action by the Security Council have been blocked over the last two years. If action in the Security Council is blocked again, no practicable alternative would remain to the use of force to deter and degrade the capacity for the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
The third requires that, “the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).” To this point, the document asserts that “military intervention to strike specific targets with the aim of deterring and disrupting further such attacks would be necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable.”
A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Tuesday implored the US and all members of the international community to prudently, and strictly observe international law - and above all, the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. Meanwhile, Lavrov warned in no uncertain terms Monday that a unilateral Western Intervention in Syria would be a “most brazen violation” of international law.