Syria and the Law 160


The legal position is perfectly clear. Syria has a recognised government, that of President Assad, represented at the United Nations. That government is legally entitled to call on Russian military assistance. Russian military action against ISIL is therefore legal.

By contrast, US and French military action has neither the sanction of the Syrian government nor the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. It is therefore plainly illegal.

Neo-con propagandists have attempted in the last fifteen years to promote a new doctrine known as the “responsibility to protect”. This is identical to intellectual justifications of Imperialism from sixteenth century Spain through to Victorian England and Imperial Russia. It holds that misgovernment of less developed nations justifies military action against them by more developed countries out of humanitarian concern. It runs directly to the established international law of non-interference and the need for Security Council sanction of military action. The “responsibility to protect” is not enshrined in any generally accepted international treaty – certainly nothing that overrides the provisions of the UN charter – and is not accepted by the large majority of the countries in the world. It is not customary international law and remains a propaganda phrase, not a legal concept.

Finally, I should add that on precisely the same arguments, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is, beyond any doubt, illegal.


160 thoughts on “Syria and the Law

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  • Mark Golding

    I asked Vladimir Putin to save the collapse of the Syrian government based on information known to me and I can disclose that Russia will provide air support to the Syrian army. Thank-you President Putin from the Children of Iraq Association.

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Craig Murray
    30/09/2015 11:27am

    In my opinion, it is entirely appropriate for there to exist or to be put in place some mechanism in international law akin to the Responsibility to Protect. I certainly hate the phrase, which is ridiculously avuncular. The difficulty with international law as it presently exists, in my understanding (which admittedly is hardly expert) is that countries are unable to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of other countries except as urgent and immediate self-defence against armed attack.

    This is plainly unsatisfactory if a sovereign country is committing horrifying atrocities against its own citizens. There exists a need for a mechanism for international intervention to put a stop to the perpetration of internal injustice. Maybe what is in place already is sufficient, I am not sure.

    It is, however, also plain that if such mechanisms are felt to be required then they have to be applied consistently, without fear or favour, and without consideration of the strategic importance of this or that country or this or that alliance. Nobody seems to be invoking a Responsibility to Protect against Saudi Arabia, for example, or Bahrain, or Israel in the case of Gaza. Why not? The question answers itself.

    Kind regards,

    John

  • craig Post author

    John,

    There already is a mechanism for states to intervene, if the Security Council agrees the emergency exists and authorises them to do so. The “responsibility to protect” doctrine allows big powerful countries unilaterally to attack others on their own judgement that they are morally superior – a judgement they exercise in an entirely hypocritical manner, as you yourself acknowledge.

  • Mary

    Bahraini ex-pats employing MEMRI to improve their country’s image. LOL.

    Bahrain’s PR offensive enlists Israeli help
    Pro-regime group plans to work ‘closely’ with MEMRI

    http://www.al-bab.com/blog/2015/september/bahrain-israel-memri.htm#sthash.jNK3OAwo.dpbs

    MEMRI refute the report, according to this.

    MEMRI Daily Brief – September 29, 2015
    Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit
    http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=68504

    MEMRI
    ‘The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a not for profit press monitoring and analysis organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C. MEMRI publishes and distributes free English language translations of Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, and Turkish media reports.[1] The institute was co-founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-born American political scientist. MEMRI states that its goal is to “bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West”.[2] Critics charge that it aims to portray the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light, through the production and dissemination of inaccurate translations and by selectively translating views of extremists while deemphasizing or ignoring mainstream opinions.’
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Media_Research_Institute

    Murky.

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    Bully Bates : ” Hey Titchy Thompson, I heard you ain’t been treating your pet hamster good. It’s my responsibility to protect the hamster. Punch. Now hand over your sweets.

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Craig

    But the trouble with that, of course, is that the five permanent members of the Security Council possess the power of veto. Suppose a resolution is brought to the Security Council to intervene in Saudi Arabia, for example, because of the way it is treating its citizenry.

    What good is that? Presumably the US, at least, as an ally of Saudi Arabia, will exercise its power of veto. So nothing gets done.

    Kind regards,

    John

  • Uzbek in the UK

    So going back to the Legal aspect of the argument.

    100 something years ago it was Legal in US and some other places in the world to beat slaves to death. Slave owners could in fact do whatever they wanted with their slaves and it was all Legal. Was it good? may be NOT but certainly Legal.

    Following Legal argument and taking Legal is being well acceptable, we shall then NOT criticise slave owners and not question whatever they have done to their slaves as it was all perfectly Legal.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    “Responsibility to protect” is insufficiently specific. May I suggest “responsibility to protect the commercial interests of the attacking power”? The implication that anyone else gets protected is, of course, laughable.

    PS Look out for “sustainable governance”, when the new Saudi-approved puppet is installed in Syria (though possibly over Putin’s dead body). Very big in Clintonite circles, is “sustainable governance”.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray

    If tomorrow Karimov will ask Putin to help him to butcher another 1000 people including women and children in another Uzbek city, it will be perfectly Legal and thus acceptable?

    It that what you are saying?

    Or is Karimov less Legal than Assad?

  • Ishmael

    Yes but the same ‘legal’ was told to me about Iraq’s potential ‘approval’..I’e ‘friendly’ Governments, “Drone here if you like” Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan? One or all of them…?

    How do you define an independent government? Though sure, Syria is less Russian than other governments in pockets.

    btw, Just came here for minor off topic, later maybe, but it’s good-ish news to me.

    .

  • craig Post author

    Uzbek

    There is a difference between legal and moral, indeed. But the onus on deposing a dictator lies with the people of a country.

  • Fwl

    There appear to have been a hundred or so unlawful wars many of which have been tacitly accepted. It istacit acceptance which seems to have become the key thing:

    1) is it lawful – if so great;
    2) is it unlawful in which case does the balance of world power tacitly accept – in which case not so great but powers may ride it out;
    3) is it unlawful and the balance of world power opposes – in which case what are they going to do?

    In the 3rd scenario the opposing power may do nothing but just use it as an excuse for their own unlawful war in which case 3) slips back into category 2).

  • Fwl

    I say great, not meaning war is great but that the power who wants to go to war thinks great they are in the clear and its all above board. Morally it may not be great.

  • John Spencer-Davis

    United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/60/L.1 (Adopting the 2005 World Summit Outcome).

    My emphasis.

    Responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing
    and crimes against humanity

    138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from
    genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This
    responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement,
    through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and
    will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as
    appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and
    support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

    139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the
    responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful
    means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect
    populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against
    humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely
    and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the
    Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation
    with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be
    inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations
    from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We
    stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the
    responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic
    cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind
    the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit
    ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to
    protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and
    crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before
    crises and conflicts break out.
    140. We fully support the mission of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General
    on the Prevention of Genocide.

    I think that is the current state of affairs and it seems perfectly reasonable except of course that the Security Council will take no notice whatever of anything brought to it that is against the perceived strategic interests of any of the permanent five members possessing the power of veto.

    http://www.who.int/hiv/universalaccess2010/worldsummit.pdf

    Kind regards,

    John

  • Ishmael

    I can’t see too many complaining with the crisis such as it is…Maybe if careful and other non military means are used.

    If they really don’t like what Russia is doing how about others stop doing the many things that play into this…

  • Hieroglyph

    Och, nobody in neocon circles gives half a flying about legalities. They may occassionally send their mouth-bitches out to plead the legal case, but this is all just about running interference, sowing deliberate confusion, whilst the military get on with the important stuff. Financial fraud, torture, illegal invasions, whosoever has faced the force of the law? A few nobodies, perhaps, and even they get off lightly. No, there is always a threat, and always bullshit to cover that threat, and that’s just where we are.

    Also, say what you like about Putin, his actions at least make some sort of sense: I’ve no doubt Russian’s intervention in Ukraine is illegal, but given Ukraine’s historical and geographical links to Russia, it can at least be understood. Not excused, but understood in light of Putin’s obvious Russian nationalism. Nothing Nato does makes any sense to me whatsoever. I keep saying this, but truly these neocons baffle me. Are they really attempting to re-draw the map, and impose christianity on muslim nations? Sometimes, even though it sounds completely insane, I wonder if that is indeed precisely what they are attempting. That’ll end well, I’m sure.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    “But the onus on deposing a dictator lies with the people of a country.”

    Sounds perfect in theory BUT dictators are usually very well equipped, militarily, intelligence wise, financially. For so called people fighting dictatorship is lost chance. Even Revolution is Russia in 1917 would not have been possible if elite Russian armies have not been slaughtered in the first 2 years of the WWI.

    For instance (legal) Assad has support of 10% of population but remaining 90% cannot get rid of his (legal) presidency for over 3 years. And this including all the support these 90% receive from various sources.

    What chances other people have to dispose of dictatorships, including Uzbeks.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray

    I guess the best course of action (in order to remain within Legal) is to watch peacefully and from far away how many are getting slaughtered. Then imposing sanctions (which do minimal harm to the slaughterers) and wait for 10 may be more years and then (when it is clear that people cannot dispose of dictatorship) remove sanctions and continue business as usual. This would be very Legal and thus very acceptable, right?

    The world is not just black and white. And while it is not, there will always be powerful support for dictatorships, from either west or east.

  • Beth

    Uzbek –Where did you get that figure of 10% support for Assad ? Where is your logic—how could he have fought for four years with only 10% support? He is not Darth Vader fighting with an army of clones. The Syrian soldiers are the sons, brothers, fathers and husbands of the Syrian people. You are very patronising of the Syrian people if you think they need an ass like David Cameron or Obama to decide whats best for them. They certainly don’t want a puppet leader like Ukraine now has.

  • Ishmael

    Noam doesn’t really know what to do either. But I think we can safely say what USUK shouldn’t be doing. …And maybe some stability in the region over a long period will diminish ISIL..

    Sorry but I don’t believe they are all crazed nutters, yet their treated/presented as this homogenized whole. I bet many really would rather not be there… So what’s wrong with keeping them in one place and not doing stuff that strengthens them? I would say it’s going to be none military actions that may diminish them…

    But it seems USUK only have hammers. Brutal violent nations with zero actual diplomatic abilities or desires. Can’t see us helping this way…And I don’t mean diplomacy with ISIL but as JC suggested, regional powers.

  • fred

    “By contrast, US and French military action has neither the sanction of the Syrian government nor the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. It is therefore plainly illegal.”

    But they do have the sanction of the Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurds.

  • craig Post author

    Fred,

    Their activities in Iraq are legal, on precisely the same grounds as the Russian activities in Syria. Their activities in Syria are illegal. There is no recognised Kurdish state (unfortunately)

  • fred

    “Their activities in Iraq are legal, on precisely the same grounds as the Russian activities in Syria. Their activities in Syria are illegal. There is no recognised Kurdish state (unfortunately)”

    But there is an autonomous Kurdish region with a regional assembly responsible for security, they have their own army. I don’t see why US action against ISIS in ISIS controlled territories would be illegal. In WWII we attacked the German army as which country it was in.

  • MJ

    “Assad has support of 10% of population”

    I think you’ll find it’s the rebels who have 10% support. Support for Assad is pretty high, over 50% in most polls and surveys if you seek them out.

  • RobG

    “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on
    a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of
    it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people
    don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in
    Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the
    country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to
    drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist
    dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no
    voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
    That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,
    and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the
    country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

  • craig Post author

    Fred

    Kurdistan is not a state in international law just as Scotland is not. The existence of any autonomous regional powers is a complete irrelevancy in this issue.

    It is illegal to attack anyone in Syria without the permission of either the Government of Syria or the UN Security Council. It is straightforward, and indeed set out in the long UNGA Resolution John posted above. Fortunately international law is not defined as “whatever Fred understands.”

  • Old Mark

    Clear concise exposition of the legal position here from Craig. That Putin is able to assist Assad on the basis Craig states is analogous to the assistance the Saudis and the Gulf states have given the Yemeni president, whose position, like Assad’s is ‘domestically contested’ but recognised internationally. This is also why all the West can do about this is fume silently, given that the analoguous intervention in Yemen is either openly or tacitly supported by the leading western countries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudi_Arabian-led_intervention_in_Yemen

    ‘Finally, I should add that on precisely the same arguments, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is, beyond any doubt, illegal.’

    Craig’s interpretation here is also correct- hence the Russian denials, now increasingly implausible, that they are assisting the Donbas rebels. The intervention in support of Assad is overt, and Russia is happy to shout it from the rooftops, whilst in the Ukraine scenario Russia is forced into making ‘the dog ate my homework’ style denials of its role.

  • Winkletoe

    Craig Murray: It runs directly to the established international law of non-interference and the need for Security Council sanction of military action.

    Surely against not to?

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