By Shubhangi Roy
The Syrian struggle for self-determination and democracy is turning into a battlefield for the bullies of the International community- the United States of America, United Kingdom, France and Russia. The loyalties have stayed intact and like most other international debacles of the past, it is USA v. Russia with UK and France supporting US’s stand in the matter. Each side contesting that theirs is the international law on intervention.
Syria is a country presently struggling under a serious civil war after the military general of its army overthrew the democratically elected President in the past few months. Though a coup, the new military government attempted to justify its legality by citing the popular support it got from the public. Unfortunately for the Syrian people, the new military leader Assad turned out to be as autocratic and despotic as the previous ones. If the rumour, that the Syrian government is employing chemical warfare to contain protests, is to be believed than perhaps the country is more in peril now than it was under the rule that sparked off the revolution.
In this backdrop of unrestricted violence, the international community continues to stage its elaborate diplomatic deliberations on the matter. In the G20 summit, presently happening in Petersburg, Russia has conveyed to the world and especially USA that any military intervention in the on-going internal conflict of Syria would be considered an unjustified act of aggression.
Meanwhile, UK had issued its legal position on the matter by stating that any such intervention would be considered justified on humanitarian grounds and therefore encouraged the SC to pass a resolution deterring the Syrian government from using such chemical warfare against its people failing which the UN Security Council should authorise the member states to use force. In absence of such resolution also, UK insists, that there exists customary international law to support a unilateral intervention in another country’s internal conflict. US laden with its messianic complex requires little provocation to intervene in the “cause of mankind”.
UK perhaps is one of the few countries intending to appease the law on the subject and not merely public opinion. Intervention of non-state actors in an internal conflict is matter dealt with in the International law jurisprudence. But so is the prohibition on use of chemical warfare. Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare signed in 1925 is an authority that prohibits use of chemical warfare in all situations and at all costs.
Over the past two decades, armed intervention on humanitarian ground seems to be the excuse for any military action by the United States of America and its allies on many Asian countries. But the concept is not as vague and open to interpretation as these non-state interveners would want us to believe. This concept arises out of the “Right to Protect” which recognises the need to act for the protection of the citizens of the world and not necessarily only a country’s own citizens.
The contention put forth in UK’s official legal position issued is that such unilateral action is justified under customary international law. We have heard these justifications reiterated many times over the past two decade – UK and Belgium attempted to justify their intervention in Yugoslavia by employing this defence, the NATO’s involvement in the internal conflict of Kosovo was also justified on similar grounds.
But do two incidents in the past qualify armed intervention on humanitarian ground as an international custom. The reason “customary law” is considered warily by jurists across the globe is because it is difficult to attain a clear objective view of the historical incident. ‘The case against the notion of historical objectivity is like the case against international morality; that it does not exist’. In light of such lack of objectivity, it is safe to not presume a few isolated events as creating an authority in International law.
It matters little that in the case of Yugoslavia, only two out of all countries that intervened used “humanitarian intervention” as a ground or that the ICJ in the Nicargua case stated that though the situation of Nicargua was worrying yet America had no legal sanction to intervene or that the infamous NATO intervention in the matter of Kosovo was a situation very different from the situation faced by the world today.
Also, there exist other means of establishing the intention of the member states like the 2000 Declaration of the South Summit by the G77 composed of about 130 member States where in Paragraph 54, they expressly rejected the right of humanitarian intervention. The only International document that can be considered an authority on the subject is that of “Right to Protect” is the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (which was approved at the head of states in the UN general Assembly) in which it is clearly stated that any such armed intervention can only be carried out under the ambit of the UN Security Council. With respect to this last document, some state that there was an intention of the states to allow such military action even if the Security Council does not sanction the same. However, this is what an analysis of the same by a news channel stated and not the member states.
A BBC correspondent’s opinion that in case the Security Council reaches a deadlock on the subject (like in the present matter), there exists a scope to act for regional coalitions or the so-called “coalition of the willing” was not mentioned in the original document at all, expressly or impliedly.
The concept of armed intervention on humanitarian grounds is envisioned only if initiated by a Security Council Resolution not otherwise. To unilaterally intervene in another state’s internal war will be considered use of “threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. This is an outright violation of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter.
So here we are at the crossroads again, each time such intervention occurs, it adds to the list of alleged “state practise” that another country or group of countries will refer to in the next encroachment of state sovereignty. Wonder if the BBC correspondent responsible for coining the phrase “wilful coalition of states” ever fancied that his words will be considered a source of law more authoritative than the UN Charter, ICJ opinion, a General Assembly Document and another International Document signed by 130 member states.
Shubhangi Roy: She is a third year student pursuing B.A. LLB. (Hons) at Gujarat National Law University. She is presently on the editorial board of two books and a few of her research papers are in the process of being published. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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