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”


Syria: Diplomacy versus international criminal law?

A fragile ceasefire took hold yesterday in Syria. It is the result of Kofi Annan’s plan, backed by the UN Security Council about a month ago. The plan, it’s important to note, doesn’t demand a regime change in Syria, but only a commitment to an “inclusive Syria-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”. Russia and China were not willing to go any further.

In the beginning, Europeans’ attitude was rather energetic demanding Assad to step down. However, Europe is softening its line now. After the Libyan experience, and certainly more focused on domestic economy-related affairs, the EU seems frightened of the regional instability that would derive from a prolonged war in Syria. The Union has been struggling to play a meaningful role in the country, and it now openly backs Annan’s diplomatic approach and proposes a political path forward not preconditioned on Assad’s resignation. Continue reading “Syria: Diplomacy versus international criminal law?”

One full year putting human rights in context

It has now been a year since this blog saw the light. On 9 November 2010, we explained the point of this project in these terms:

The human rights community must contextualise human rights. This demands the use of the rights discourse and tools in order to hold back the effects of these crises or, in other words, in order to transform a crisis into a political opportunity for change.

We cannot afford a recession in human rights. This phrase summarises the point of Rights in Context. Continue reading “One full year putting human rights in context”

Un año poniendo los derechos humanos en contexto

Hace hoy un año nació este blog. El 9 de noviembre de 2010, explicábamos así la finalidad de este proyecto:

La comunidad de derechos humanos tiene la gran responsabilidad de contextualizar estos derechos. Ello requiere la utilización del discurso y de las herramientas de los derechos humanos para frenar y dar la vuelta a los efectos de estas crisis o, en otras palabras, para trasformar una crisis en una oportunidad política para el cambio.

No nos podemos permitir una recesión en derechos humanos. En una frase esta es la razón de ser del proyecto Derechos en Contexto. Continue reading “Un año poniendo los derechos humanos en contexto”

Libya, R2P and a Wilsonian Barack Obama

Last March, we asked in a post here about the normative effects of the Resolution 1973, by which the UN Security Council authorised the use of force in Libya based on the self-attributed ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P). The war in Libya has claimed many victims and has already reached a point of stagnation. It is time to think about whether that Resolution helped consolidating the idea of R2P or rather constituted a proof of the emptiness of such a norm:

Continue reading “Libya, R2P and a Wilsonian Barack Obama”

What will the post-Libya scenario look like?

By now this is a cheap cliché, but let me begin with this: We know how the intervention in Libya began, but we still don´t know where it will lead. In this world of fast flash communication, information comes and goes and news get old very quickly. The dilemma about whether ‘we’ should intervene (with weapons, of course) in Libya reached its peak around 10 days ago but seems almost obsolete now. It is just a couple of weeks since Chris Riddell published the cartoon below in The Observer. Terms like ‘no-fly-zone’, unknown for most of us until very recently, belong now to the most basic vocabulary on radio and TV debates.

Chris Riddell in The Observer, 13 March 2011

The intervention continues, armed forces of several countries (mostly Western, but also a few Arab states like Qatar and UAE so far) are involved, Gaddafi is in trouble, etc. In this context, the unrest spreads across the Arab world: Syria seems a likely candidate to go next. As said, the future is full of shadows. Many issues remain unclear:

Continue reading “What will the post-Libya scenario look like?”