- - Sunday, September 8, 2013


President Obama has convinced the Senate that military intervention in Syria is just and necessary, but, pending House approval, he also must convince the world that our actions will be justifiable under international law.

Opponents of intervention believe the United States has no basis under international law to intercede. They point to the recent U.N. Security Council vote that rejected collective military action and the fact that Syria presents no imminent threat — the touchstone for preemptive force under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

Even President Obama conceded Wednesday that there was no such threat.

“We may not be directly, imminently threatened by what’s taking place in a Kosovo or a Syria or a Rwanda in the short term,” he said, “but our long-term national security will be impacted in a profound way and our humanity is impacted in a profound way.”

The case President Obama must now make to the world is a sophisticated one, but one that is deeply rooted within international law since human rights goes to the very heart of why the United Nations was created.

Here is the legal argument the president needs to make:

The use of chemical weapons have been banned since 1925 by the Geneva Protocol and customary international law, and their use was banned again almost globally in 1993 during the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Although Syria declined to partake in the convention, it is still bound by generally accepted “customary international law,” and it also is a member of the U.N., which has classified “using poisonous weapons or weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering” as a “war crime.” (War crimes, unlike genocide, do not require the targeting of a specific group.)

Syria has used such weapons to killed at least 1,429 of its own people, and has therefore committed war crimes in violation of humanitarian law (applies during times of armed conflict) and human rights law (applies during peacetime).

The charter of the United Nations makes it clear under Articles 55 and 56 that member states “shall promote universal respect for human rights,” and as members of the United Nations, they “pledge themselves to take joint and separate action” to do so.

Therefore, the U.S. is permitted and morally bound to take action to further impede Syria’s ability to continue committing those human rights violations.

At first glance, this argument may seem vastly oversimplified, but in law, the use of words is crucial and every word is carefully deliberated upon by the legislative bodies that choose them. A single word can change the entire legislative intent or purpose of what a law was designed to achieve.

When breaking down the very specific language of Article 55, it says: “The United Nations shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms “

The article does not say that the U.N. may promote universal human rights, but instead says that it shall promote universal human rights.

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