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Attack on Syria would violate UN Charter

ELDH Statement on Syria by the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH)

The European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), with members in 18 European countries, is absolutely opposed to the proposed use of illegal armed force by Western powers against the Syrian regime.

The US government, together with the British and French Governments, is leading a call for military actions against Syria which will of necessity kill civilians, with the ostensible purpose of showing the Syrian government that killing civilians (allegedly with chemical weapons) is wrong.

The British parliament has been recalled, and a vote will be taken on Thursday 29 September. It appears that the UK wish to rely on justifications similar to those used in Libya, namely protection of civilians.

On the order of the President of France the French Parliament will take a decision in an extraordinary session on 4 September.

However, for the United States, the UK and their allies to threaten to and or launch a military strike in reprisal is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter. The Charter in Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to either use force or the threat of use of force in international relations. The only occasion on which the use of force is legal under the Charter is under Article 51 which allows a State to defend itself if attacked, or with authorisation from the Security Council under Chapter VII. The US, the UK and their allies have not been attacked by Syria, and it is highly unlikely that the Security Council will authorise the use of force at this stage.

The UK Government has also referred to the controversial and recent concept of a "Responsibility to Protect". This concept does not have the force of international law. However, as the concept has been formulated in the United Nations, it is not up to individual States or groups of States to use force against States that allegedly fail to comply with this duty: action against such States, too, must be authorised by the Security Council.

The United States and the international community have failed to take constructive steps to promote peace-making efforts which could have brought the crisis in Syria to an end. Powerful local states have instead waged a proxy war to give their "side" a stronger hand in future negotiations, evaluating the situation only in terms of geopolitical concerns. The result has been to show once again that "military solutions" to political and economic problems are no solution at all. In the meantime enmity between religious factions has been enflamed to such a degree that the demonization of each by the other has created fertile ground for genocide and excuses for not negotiating with anyone with "blood on their hands".

If it is substantiated that chemical agents such as nerve agents were used in Syria, the ELDH condemns the use of any type of chemical weapons by any party in Syria. Despite US claims of "little doubt that Assad used these weapons", significant doubt has been expressed by experts who see a real possibility that the "rebels" are trying to set up a situation to get the US to intervene against Assad’s regime. We condemn any military intervention by the United States or its allies especially the UK in Syria as a reprisal to punish the government.

Chemical weapons which kill and maim people are illegal and their use violates the laws of war. Beginning with the Hague regulations and treaty of 1899 and 1907 in which chemical and poisoned weapons were first outlawed, and later in the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and Chemical Weapons Convention the illegality of these weapons have been reiterated. These weapons cannot distinguish between military combatants and civilians and they cause unnecessary suffering. Under the Nuremberg Principles, violations of the laws of war are war crimes. The ELDH agrees that the use of these weapons must incur criminal liability for those who used them.

The way to deter the use of chemical weapons is to actually enforce in the International Criminal Court the chemical weapons ban which has become a norm of customary international law.

ELDH calls upon the United States, the UK and the international community not to intervene in Syria, and to take affirmative steps to promote a durable cease fire and to end the killing, consistent with the UN Charter which ensures that there is peace and accountability.

Photo: Voice of America News
The photo shows a building in Azaz, Syria, after bombing by the Assad regime