Intervening militarily in Syria? Many more questions than answers

Kal Syria The EconomistOnly last week, a US-led military intervention in Syria seemed inevitable. Today, the immediate future looks more uncertain. In a historic debate, the UK Parliament refused to endorse a military action. President Obama referred the matter to Congress. NATO Chief announced that they would not be part of a strike. And the Arab League Secretary General said that a military action outside the UN mandate “is out of the question”.

As of this writing, since the UN research team has not announced its findings, there is no official truth about whether chemical weapons were used in Damascus on 21 August. I think we should first wait for this team to complete their job, although I am personally ready to accept that it happened. MSF treated patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” and Amnesty International has gathered information from survivors of the attack. Nevertheless, the scale of the effects remains unknown. France speaks of 281 deaths, MSF counted 355 and so did the UK Government, while the meticulous US intelligence mysteriously raised the number to 1429 victims. (Toby Helm rightly asks: “Why, if UK relations with Washington were so close, and the UK had known it was facing a crucial parliamentary vote, was Cameron not given access to new, higher casualty figures from US intelligence, cited by Kerry?”). The UN team will not be able (it is not in their mandate either) to determine who used or released the chemical agents, but the attack was directed against areas under control of the opposition forces, which gives us a relevant clue.

Future evidence may prove me wrong, but I believe that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons against its own population, which is clearly prohibited by customary international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime (Rules 74 and 156 of the ICRC study on Customary International Humanitarian Law). However, when I am confronted by the possibility of a non-UN sponsored military attack in Syria, I ask myself many more questions than I can answer. Continue reading “Intervening militarily in Syria? Many more questions than answers”


Social Exclusion in Deeply Divided Societies: A Socioeconomic Rights-approach to Transitional Justice

Read the whole piece in E-International Relations

This paper claims that socioeconomic rights must be part of social reconstruction in deeply divided societies because the lack thereof lies at the core of the conflicts we aim to transform. The essay is divided in four sections. Firstly, it discusses the role of poverty and inequality in fostering violence and mistrust within societies. Secondly, the article suggests that the frame ‘economic and social rights’ is more suitable than other approaches covered in literature (such as ‘human needs’ or ‘human security’). Third, it looks at three case studies where socioeconomic rights have been officially recognized as constitutive elements of transitional justice (Guatemala, South Africa and Northern Ireland) and critically examines some important empirical limitations of the inclusion of economic and social rights in the equation of conflict resolution. The article concludes with an appeal to overcome strictly legalistic and individualistic approaches to economic and social rights as a condition to get the most out of human rights in a period of transition.

Written in March 2011

Koldo Casla


“Human rights at war in Syria”: A response to Tarak Barkawi

In an article published on Al Jazeera English a few days ago, titled “Human rights at war in Syria”, Tarak Barkawi criticises human rights organisations (he pinpoints HRW and Amnesty International) for denouncing the abuses committed by rebels in Syria. Barkawi laments that their reports reveal “a systematic bias favouring the official, uniformed armed forces of states”. In his view, by naming and shaming the abuses committed by the armed opposition, human rights groups create a “moral equivalence between the murderous regime of Assad and those who are fighting against the odds to defeat him”. Barkawi asks his readers the following question: “What are we to make of the idea that the violence of the regime and that of the rebels should be measured against the same standard? Does it make sense to be impartial about a war?” Continue reading ““Human rights at war in Syria”: A response to Tarak Barkawi”

Interactions between International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law for the protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Published in Revista Electrónica de Estudios Internacionales, Vol. 23, June 2012



Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) are at risk on the battlefield. Thus, human rights lawyers must look for legal means to guarantee the best possible protection of these rights in case of war. It is generally accepted nowadays that both International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) are applicable during armed conflicts. Adding on that and based on a procedural and substantive legal analysis, this paper claims that both IHL and IHRL constantly interact in a relation of synergy or norms. Continue reading “Interactions between International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law for the protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”

If Greece had been militarily occupied

If, instead of being ‘bailed out’, Greece (or Ireland, Portugal… who’s next?) had been occupied by a foreign power, Greeks would be protected by 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, according to which a party to an international armed conflict cannot “attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away or for any other motive” (art. 54.2). Objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population “shall not be made the object of reprisals” (art. 54.4). Continue reading “If Greece had been militarily occupied”

“Reintegration – Evolution or Revolution?”, by Salma Yusuf and Dominique Mystris


A focus on reintegration requires consideration of the economic, political and social aspects of the process. In addition to the broader definition of reintegration, it is proposed that any definition of ex-combatant should be broad enough to cover as many individuals involved and directly linked, as in the families of the combatants, to bring them back into the community.

In this paper, some of the challenges and obstacles to reintegration are considered, culminating in an analysis of best practices and recommendations to inform the work of practitioners, thereby complementing the ongoing discourse on reintegration of excombatants in post-war contexts. The obstacles and challenges to the reintegration process have been explored from four perspectives, namely, third party, ex-combatant, community and general. Continue reading ““Reintegration – Evolution or Revolution?”, by Salma Yusuf and Dominique Mystris”