Will Syria Go on the Offensive at The Hague?

My Catbird Seat January 2, 2013 2
Will Syria Go on the Offensive at The Hague?

EDITOR'S NOTE : It is excellent that people are starting to look at "lawfare" as a tool with which to whack away at the bully. For decades, the US has undermined the very same international laws it helped establish. That is what unchecked power does: it establishes a set of rules that everyone is obliged to follow, except the hegemon itself. These so-called "sanctions" levelled against every one of America's foes are nothing more than collective puishment against non-combatant civilians. The results of these sanctions are clear after killing hundreds of thousands in Iraq. They must never be used again by the international community, and yet we see the US and its allies put these same screws on the Iranian and Syrian populations. No. It is time the American bully is held accountable for its "sanctions" crimes, and if this proves impossible within the existing global legal structures and jurisdictions, then we must collectively force a change in the international status quo so that nobody and no state is above the law.

 

A "Legal Intifada" Appears Likely for More than Just the Palestinians

 

by Franklin Lamb  –  La Maison  d’Avocats, Damascus. 

Al-Manar December 31, 2012

Even before the historic 139 to 8 vote of the UN General Assembly on November 29 of this year which opened up a plethora of legal remedies for Palestinians, a “legal intifada” — to borrow a phrase from Francis Boyle,  Professor of International Law and a longtime advocate of advancing  resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine through the rule of law — has  been taking form in this region.

The reasons include nearly seven decades of countless Zionist crimes against Muslims and Christians in occupied Palestine and far beyond. As Professor Boyle has suggested, the opportunities presented to the PLO by the lopsided  UN vote “…can mean numerous available legal remedies ranging from  the securing of a fair share of the gas deposits off the shores of Gaza, control  of Palestinian airspace and telecommunications and, crucially, bringing the  Zionist regime to account at the International Criminal Court and the  International Court of Justice.

Syria too, currently under enormous pressure from international interference into the internal affairs of the country and the subject of an intense regime change project led by the US and France, has international legal remedies  immediately available to it stemming from the actions of the US, UK, France  and others in imposing on Syria’s civilian population one of the most severe  and clearly illegal layers of sanctions. Were Syria and others to file an  Application for an Advisory Opinion with the ICJ few in the international  legal community have much doubt that targeting civilians economically  and attempting to destroy the Syrian economy — for no other purpose than  to ignite rebellion — would be considered a violation of international law  at the International Court of Justice.

Granted there are some potential jurisdictional problems given that Syria has not yet accepted the Article 36 Compulsory Jurisdiction of the World Court, as provided in the Statute of the Court, and the strong campaign  at the UN that would certainly be waged by the Obama Administration to  challenge ICJ jurisdiction to hear a case on behalf of Syria and its civilian  population, but they can be overcome. As a general rule, an Advisory Opinion requires a simple majority affirmative vote by the UN General Assembly or an Application by one of the designated UN Specialized Agencies. This might be a tough job to secure the former but it is doable with the latter. Moreover, should Syria accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the  ICJ it could likely quickly resolve the issue of sanctions by claiming a legal  dispute with one or more states that also accept CJ and are supporters of  sanctions. For example, the UK, France and their NATO and Gulf allies.

Aspects of a possible filing at the International Court of Justice on the legality of US-led sanctions are currently being researched by seasoned international lawyers and academics, at various Western and International law centers.  Supporting efforts being worked on include drafting amicus curie briefs on  the issue of the legality of the US-led sanctions to be submitted to the Court,  plans for securing the widest possible political support for challenging the  US-led sanctions from among Non-Aligned Movement countries,  international peace groups, NGO’s, pro-peace websites, bloggers, social  media and online activists as well as organizing a skilled media center to  disseminate information about the case including quickly publishing,  in paperback book form, one of the key Annexes to be submitted to the ICJ  upon filing the Application. This volume will present Syrian government  and International NGO prepared data on the inhumane effects of the  US led sanctions in all their aspects, including by not limited to children, the  elderly and the infirm, plus the effects of the US-led sanctions on the Syrian  economy generally, i.e. consumer goods, medical delivery systems, financial  institutions, currency values and related aspects of the lives of the civilian  population of Syria.

Were Syria, and others, to take the illegal and immoral US-led sanctions case to the World Court and other available venues, they would shift their diplomatic position from a defensive status to taking the offense. Such a  bold initiative would advance accountability under international law and,  because the ICJ would likely grant a Petition for Interim Measures of  Protection, the US-led sanctions could be suspended during the course of the  judicial proceedings. Obviously this lifting/freezing of the sanctions would immediately and directly inure to the benefit of the Syrian civilian population, including the half million Palestinian refugees in Syria as well  as thousands from Iraq.

This would work in concert with the “THREE B’s”, to borrow a phrase from Russia’s top middle east envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Boganov, referring to Mr. Brahimi, Mr. Bogdanov, and Undersecretary William Burns,  a former ambassador to Moscow, who would be urged to intensify their  focus on achieving a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis based on  modified June 2011 Geneva formulation of a transition period leading to the  2014 elections.

According to several International lawyers surveyed between October and December, 2012, Syria clearly has the facts of the US sanctions case in its favor and there are ample solid legal theories to argue to and convince the  World Court. Under the ICJ Statute, the Court must decide cases solely in accordance with international law. Hence the ICJ must apply: (1) any international conventions and treaties; (2) international custom; (3) general principles recognized as law by civilized nations; and (4) judicial decisions and the teachings of highly qualified publicists of the various nations. From  this body of international law the International Court of Justice would find  ample basis to support Syria’s claims not only for the benefit of its civilian  population but also to advance the rule of law in the global community.

Syria proxy war

The ICJ is made up of 15 jurists from different countries. No two judges at any given time may be from the same country. The court’s composition is static but generally includes jurists from a variety of cultures. Among the Principles, Standards and Rules of international law that Syria may well  argue to the World Court, may include but not be limited to, the following:

The US led sanctions violate international humanitarian law due to the negative health effects of the sanctions on the civilian population of Syria.  This renders the sanctions illegal under international customary law and the  UN Charter for their disproportionate damage caused to Syria’s civilian  population;

The US led severe sanctions regime constitutes an illegitimate form of  collective punishment of the weakest and poorest members of society, the  infants, the children, the chronically ill, and the elderly;

The US, France and the UK, as well as their allies, have violated the UN Charter by their imposition of severe economic sanctions and threats of military force. The United States, Israel, and some of their allies, regularly threaten Damascus with the “option” of a military strike. The ICJ has ruled previously that “A threat or use of force is contrary to Article 2, paragraph 4, of the UN Charter and fails to meet all the requirements of Article 51,  is therefore unlawful”. It has further ruled that “A threat of use of force must be compatible with the requirements of the international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of humanitarian  law, as well as with specific obligations under treaties and other undertakings  which expressly deal with threats to members of the United Nations.”

Moreover, unilateral US sanctions, without the imprimatur of the United  Nations are blatantly illegal under International Law because they are in fact  multilateral and impose penalties on any country which opposes the  sanctions or does not choose to participate in them;

The US led sanctions amount to an Act of War given their effects including hardships on the general public and that Syria therefore has a legal right to Self-Defense.

The US led sanctions, given their design and intent, constitute acts of aggression against Syria in violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN charter.

The indisputable facts of the US led sanctions case warrant the imposition  by the ICJ of Restraining Orders designed to prevent any type of blockade or  no-fly zones in Syria and the immediate cessation of the imposition of  further economic sanctions against Syria, and also their efforts of securing  more sanctions against Syria at the United Nations Security Council. The Restraining Orders, under the umbrella of Interim Measures of Protection,  would presumably also seek to prohibit the US and its allies from the Persian  Gulf region and elsewhere, from advocating aggressive military actions  against Syria, including supplying funding, weapons, and jihadists, as well  as Western “Special Forces” currently pouring into Syria from its northern  border with Turkey and to negotiate with the Syrian government in  good faith to end the current crisis.

Syria can legitimately claim, and would presumably argue at the ICJ and other international forums that the bi-lateral or multilateral economic sanctions, led by the US and its Gulf allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are  illegal, indeed criminal due to their assault on international humanitarian  law and required state practice.

Syria could successfully argue, according to a recent survey of international lawyers conducted in Brussels and The Hague, as well as within Syria’s  Maison d’Avocats, that the US led sanctions violate the international law  principle of Non-intervention in the internal affairs of UN member states and  that the stewards of these sanctions could themselves be subject to  international sanctions plus compensatory and punitive damages for the  benefit of their victims.

In summary, as Germany’s Green Party, and increasingly, legal scholars and human rights  organizations generally are insisting, sanctions against Syria’s civilian  population fundamentally violate international law.

Should NATO sets up a no-fly zone and were to launch airstrikes against Damascus, it can and should immediately be sued at The Hague and if the situation deteriorates NATO can and should be held to account for targeting Alawites and Christians on the basis of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. All participating countries, 142 to date, are obliged to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime. Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, elements of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group including killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Despite Syria’s strong case on both the facts and the law, and the diversity in structure and composition of the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal has a few times over the years been criticized for  favoring established powers. Under articles 3 and 9 of the ICJ Statute, the judges on the ICJ should represent “the main forms of civilization and principal legal systems of the world.” This definition suggests that the ICJ does not represent the interests of developing countries. Nevertheless, the World Courts record has been by and large exemplary in applying principles, standards and rules of international law both in contested cases and advisory opinions and Syria has an excellent opportunity to protect its citizens, thwart US and Israeli designs on the region, and advance international accountability — all to the inestimable benefit of all people and nations.

Syria, which the US and Israel and their allies are today working to keep  off balance and on the defensive diplomatically, should consider immediately  filing an application with the International Court of Justice, and use all other  available international legal, political and humanitarian tribunals, to directly  challenge and boldly confront the US led sanctions campaign against its  people. The Syrian Arab Republic, by taking the offensive at the World Court  and elsewhere, will help relieve the enormous pressures on its civilians and  advance the principles, standards and rules of international law—for the  benefit of all mankind.


About the Author : Franklin Lamb  is Fellow, Department of East Asian Legal Studies, Harvard Law School USA, Post Doctoral Program in International Law, Cambridge University, UK, The Hague Academy of International Law, The Hague, Holland 1976, 1974, Summers 1970-73, Ph.D. (International Law and Economics), The London School of Economics, PhD Thesis: "Pollution As A Problem In International Law" 1973, M. Phil. (International Law and Economics), University of London, London School of Economics 1972, LLM (International Law), University of London, London School of Economics 1969, JD (Juris Doctor) LLB, Boston University Law School 1968, MA Literature, Harvard University, BA in History and Government, Boston University, Milwaukie Union High School, Milwaukie Grammar School. Founder and Acting Director, Sabra Shatila Memorial Scholarship Program and Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon 2007-8, Founder and Director, Welcome Orchards, La Plata, Maryland, USA 2000-2005, Director, Lamont Properties, Real Estate Development Firm, Washington DC 1982-2004, Co-Founder and Chair, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace 1982-2008, Assistant Council, United States Congress, House Judiciary Committee, Washington DC 1980-88, Associate Professor of International Law, Northwestern College of Law, Portland, Oregon 1975-76, Staff Attorney, Pozzi, Wilson and Atchison Law Office, Portland, Oregon 1975-76, Lecturer in International Law and Relations, University of London 1973-74, Overseas Director, American Heritage Association, (An association of 11 American universities operating Study Abroad Programs in England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy), London, England 1970-74,Teacher, Boston Public Schools During Law School, Legislative Assistant, United States Senate,Summer Employment during Undergraduate and Law School. He can be reached c/o  fplamb@gmail.com

2 Comments »

  1. RobW January 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    The only way the UN, and its agencies, can function effectively, is to eliminate the veto power enjoyed by five permanent members of the security council. The charter was rigged from its inception, to create a world dictatorship, which is, via the usa, being steered by the worldwide zionist agenda. World government could be a blessing, were it reasoned and just. Exactly the opposite of what's going on.

  2. aster January 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this most positive contribution in helping Syria resist the nightmarish fate of other middle east countries, which our PTB have forced upon them.  God Bless Syria, may her heroic stand herald the end of our leaders' long campaign of tyranny.

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