Syria, chemical weapons. and avoiding
On August 30, 2013 posted by
Statement als PDF zum Herunterladen (in Englisch)
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes
the decision by the British Parliament to refuse the endorsement of
military action against Syria. Parliament upheld the principle that the
use of chemical weapons can never be justified, but reasserted the
importance of international law and the UN Charter in dictating any
response by the international community. However, media reports indicate
that the US government is still intent on a military strike against
Syria, even without UK support.
It has been WILPF’s position since the first reports of use of gas
that the use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international
law, regardless of which party to the conflict perpetrated the attack.
But the use of chemical weapons, however abhorrent and illegal, should
not be used as a pretext for military intervention. Other options are
available and must be pursued.
Chemical weapons and international law
There is no doubt that the use of chemical weapons in armed conflict is a violation of international law. The 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in war. Furthermore, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
outlaws the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling,
retention, transfer, or use of chemical weapons. While Syria is party
only to the 1925 Geneva Protocol and not the CWC, legal experts and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
have pointed out that these agreements have created a principle against
the use of chemical weapons through customary international law.
This means the prohibition against using chemical weapons is just as binding as a treaty and is similarly binding on armed groups.
Consequently, if either the government or a rebel faction that uses
chemical weapons, they can be held accountable for this violation of
international law. The alleged use of chemical weapons must not be used
as a pretext for military intervention.
Against military intervention
than rushing to military intervention or war, the international
community must respond in conformity with international law.
International legal obligations permit military intervention only under
specific circumstances, none of which are applicable in this situation.
The rhetoric of the governments pushing for intervention is more akin to retribution and punishment
than justice in accordance with international law. It presupposes both
the “right” of Western governments to act as global police and the
legitimacy of the use of force to resolve international problems.
The consequences of military intervention are inevitable: collateral
damage, exacerbation of the conflict and suffering of civilians,
radicalization of forces in the region, and making the prospect of a
peaceful negotiation even more remote. Military intervention will not
help the Syrian people secure relief from the violence nor will it
result in a peaceful transition to a democratic and accountable
government. A dialogue must happen and it must happen with the voices of
those who advocate a nonviolent solution.
Alternatives to armed force have been carefully constructed over
decades and there are systems in place that could and should be used.
1. Ensure effective investigation of the attack through an extension of the existing mandate of the UN inspections.
The UN inspections must be allowed to be completed. The inspection team
has so far collected samples and interviewed victims and witnesses. UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has argued
that the team must be allowed to do its job and establish the facts,
pushing back against the US and UK government’s assertions of “certainty”
about the facts of the case and their demands that the inspection team
leave the country. Once the inspectors have determined whether chemical
weapons were used and perhaps the origins of these weapons, the
international community should then act in accordance with international
law in its response.
2. Seek a UN Security Council resolution to secure the hand-over of any WMD in the possession of any party to the conflict. The
first obligation on the UN Security Council is to ensure the prevention
of further chemical weapons use. Consequently, it should promulgate a
resolution to facilitate the seizure of the prohibited weapons. This
could get the support of the Russian government, which has supported the
prohibition of use of chemical weapons and which seems to have
considerable influence over the Syrian government. Because of Russia’s
strong participation in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, (which has a larger geographical mandate than just Europe), the
OSCE may also be able to secure the hand-over of the weapons.
3. Request the UN Security Council refer the matter to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The
ICC has been established to bring justice when a state is unwilling or
unable to do so, as would be the case here. There needs to be an
investigation into the identification of the perpetrators and the nature
of the command responsibility. Syria is not a party to the ICC but the
UN Security Council can and should refer the matter to the office of the
prosecutor and ensure that funds are available for investigation and
4. Support a political solution through inclusive peace talks. The
political process developed to provide a political solution to the
Syrian crisis through “Geneva I” talks in 2012 and planned “Geneva II”
talks this year have been established to provide a political rather than
military solution to the crisis. The first set of discussions developed
a plan for a transitional government in Syria involving both government
and opposition members. This discussion needs to be continued in Geneva
II talks with strengthened support
from permanent UN Security Council members. Pressure also needs to be
strengthened for an inclusive process involving women on all sides as
well as nonviolent humanitarian and women’s groups to ensure a strong
peace process and outcome.
In the meantime, arms transfers to the Syrian government and rebel
forces must stop. These arms flows have achieved only more bloodshed. In
calling for those providing weapons to either side to stop, UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes,
“The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total
destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat. Why add more fuel
to the fire?”
Some will question where the justice is in simply completing
inspections and securing the weapons. Law is not about quick “fixes”
often demanded by governments, or the immediate justice that is wanted
by victims. However, it provides a process which is critical to engage
with if we want to move away from violent retribution and towards
processes of peace and justice.
WILPF calls, yet again, for choosing peace over violence, and
political over militarized solutions. Sustainable peace cannot be built
on more violence.