Monday, December 31, 2012

Palestine’s Membership at the International Criminal Court: What It Could Mean for Israel

With Resolution A/67/L.28 on the Status of Palestine at the United Nations having been passed with an overwhelming majority at the General Assembly on November 29, 2012, the Palestinian Authority’s status has been upgraded from a United Nations permanent observer entity to that of a non-member observer State. Although the Resolution does not necessarily mean that all States, including the nine that voted against the Resolution and the forty one that abstained, must now recognize Palestine as a State, it does mean that Palestine will have access to United Nations and agencies, including the International Criminal Court.

For many observers, this has been hailed as a great triumph for Palestine, and some commentators anticipate that Palestine will seek membership at the International Criminal Court in order to file claims against Israeli officials for the Gaza blockade, disproportionate attacks against and collective punishment of Palestinians, and the occupation of the West Bank. However, as discussed on my latest contribution to The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, seeking membership at the Court will prove to be a double-edged sword for Palestine. For the full article and analysis, visit The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation by clicking here.

الدولة الفلسطينية وفقاً للقانون الدولي

بقلم جون بلوظية ولينا القاضي

1. مقدمة

إن قرار الجمعية العامة رقم A/67/L.28 الصادر في 29 نوفمبر 2012 فيما يتعلق بوضع فلسطين في الأمم المتحدة قد صدر بناء على تصويت 138 دولة بالموافقة و 9 دول معارضة بينما امتنعت 41 دولة عن التصويت. إن قرار الأمم المتحدة الذي غير حالة دولة فلسطين من دولة مراقب دائم من قبل الأمم المتحدة إلى دولة مراقب غير عضو في الأمم المتحدة؛ يثير عدة تساؤلات في القانون الدولي. أهمها،ما مدى الزامية هذا القرار و مكانته ضمن القانون الدولي؟هل تقوم الدولة نتيجة لهذا القرار؟

2. هل تعتبر قرارات الجمعية العامة ملزمة؟

إن قرارات الجمعية العامة لا تكون بحد ذاتها ملزمة قانونياً على عكس مجلس الأمن. حيث أن قرارات الجمعية العامة تكون ملزمة فقط إذا كانت متعلقة في الميزانية و ذلك فيما يتعلق بالمخصصات و جمع المستحقات. و بناء على ذلك فإن القرار رقم A/67/L.28 له تأثير رمزي دون ان يكون له تأثير حقيقي ومباشر في الوضع الحاصل لفلسطين.

ومع أن قرارات الجمعية العامة غير ملزمة للدول الأعضاء؛ إلا أنها من الممكن ان تسهم في وضع قانون دولي ملزم. حيث إن قرارات الجمعية العامة تكون وسيلة تعبر فيها الدول الأعضاء عن آرائهم حول الأوضاع و التساؤلات الدولية. إن القرارات التي تتلقى تأييداً واسع النطاق فإنها قد تساهم في تشكيل مبدأ او مضمون كعرفاً دولياً،و العرف الدولي يعتبر احد مصادر القانون الدولي. وبالتالي فإنه اذا أصبح هذا المبدأ عرفا دولياً فإنه يصبح ملزماً على الدول الأعضاء ولا يجوز لها اعلان و تكرار رفضها لهذا المبدأ.

إن قرارات و اعلانات المنظمات الدولية بما فيها الأمم المتحدة قد تشكل أراء الفقهاء ("opinio juris") وهو أحد المصادر الخمسة للقانون الدولي. إن الرأي القانوني لا يعتبر بحد ذاته مصدراً للقانون إلا أنه بمثابة "وسيلة فرعية لتحديد قواعد القانون" وذلك وفقاً للمادة 38 من نظام محكمة العدل الدولية.

لذلك، في حين أن القرار رقم A/67/L.28 لا يعتبر قراراً ملزماً إلا أنه قد يسهم في تشكيل مبدأ لقانون دولي ملزم.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Does Palestine’s UN Statehood Vote have more than Symbolic Value?

The UN General Assembly voted yesterday to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state with an overwhelming majority of 138 States in favor, nine against and forty one abstentions. The vote has upgraded the Palestinian Authority’s status as a United Nations “permanent observer entity” to that of a “non-member observer state.” The 138 States that voted in favor of Palestinian Statehood eclipsed both the number of States that previously recognized a "State" of Palestine (132) and the simple majority required under article 18 of the Charter of the United Nations to pass the resolution.
One major question remains looming: what impact, if any, will the General Assembly’s vote have?

2. Do General Assembly resolutions have the force of law?
On the one hand, decisions of the General Assembly are not binding on United Nations member States. The General Assembly, unlike the Security Council, only issues binding resolutions in the area of budgetary matters regarding the allotment and collection of dues. Therefore, the General Assembly’s vote will have a largely symbolic effect without any real, immediate impact on the content of international law.
However, while General Assembly resolutions are not per se legally binding, they can contribute to the content of international law. General Assembly resolutions are a means through which States express their opinions about the status of international questions. A resolution that receives widespread support may therefore shape the content of customary international law, a binding source of international law. When a legal principle becomes customary international law, it becomes binding on States to the extent that they do not repeatedly and publicly announce opposition to the principle.
Moreover, the resolutions and declarations of international organizations, including the United Nations, may constitute opinio juris, one of the five sources of international law. While opinio juris is not itself a source of law, it serves as a “subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law” (article 38 Statute of the International Court of Justice).
Therefore, while General Assembly resolutions are not themselves binding, they may contribute to and shape the content of binding international law.

3. When is Statehood Recognized under International Law?

Principles of International Law (2d ed.)
covers the principal topics of public
international law, including criteria for
Statehood and the recognition of

A majority vote in favor of Palestine’s state status will not on its own clothe Palestine with Statehood. Rather, Palestine must either meet the elements of Statehood under the declarative theory of State recognition or otherwise achieve widespread and universal acknowledgement as an independent State under the constitutive theory of Statehood.
The declarative theory is the prevailing theory for the recognition of State sovereignty. It holds that an entity is recognized as a State when it satisfies the following objective criteria for Statehood, which were laid down in article 1 of the Montevideo Convention of on the Rights and Duties of States (1933):
- Permanent population;
- Defined territory;
- Effective government; and
- Capacity to enter into relations with other States.

There is a great deal of controversy as to whether Palestine meets these criteria. In addition to the question of Palestine’s “defined territory,” the element that faces the most objection is the question of effective government. Given the rift between Fatah and Hamas, many critics argue that there is no Palestinian government with effective and consolidated control over all of Palestine’s territory.

Yet even if Palestine were not to meet the elements of the declarative theory test, it may qualify for Statehood under the constitutive theory, which holds that an entity is a State if recognized as such by the international community. “Recognition” refers to the formal acknowledgement by other states that an entity is a State. The vote of the General Assembly, while not having per se legal force, will demonstrate the extent to which Palestine Statehood holds the support of the international community and is thus instrumental in determining whether the criteria set forth under the constitutive theory of State recognition has been fulfilled.

4. Will the Recognition of Palestinian Statehood Have any Real Impact?
Many commentators have rightfully pointed out that even if the General Assembly approves Palestine’s application for Statehood, the situation on the ground will remain largely unchanged. For example, Israel, which will not recognize Palestine as an independent State, will continue to occupy the West Bank. Nations that opposed or abstained from Palestine’s Statehood vote will refuse to recognize Palestine as a State, enter into diplomatic relations with Palestine or recognize Palestinian diplomatic missions or consulates.
However, there is one important consequence that the recognition of Palestinian Statehood will have: it will grant Palestine access to international organizations, including the International Criminal Court. This will enable Palestine to initiate claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Unlike in the past, where countries could only pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court with Israel’s consent to the Court’s jurisdiction, if Palestine is recognized as a State and becomes a member of the International Criminal Court, the Court would have jurisdiction against Israel as to conduct that occurred on Palestinian territory, even without Israel’s consent. Under article 12.2 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Court has jurisdiction whenever a State on whose territory crimes occurred (Palestine) is a member, even if the defendant State (Israel) is a non-member. Therefore, if Palestine claims that Israel committed crimes against humanity or war crimes on Palestinian territory, the Court would have jurisdiction over the matter.

5. Conclusion
Although the General Assembly vote is in many ways merely symbolic and carries less weight than the binding resolutions passed by the Security Council, the recognition of Palestinian Statehood will have far-reaching consequences that will impact negotiations with Israel as well as Palestine’s access to international organizations such as the International Criminal Court.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

War for Peace: The Moral and Legal Case for Intervention in Syria

Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Nowhere are these insightful words more applicable than in Syria today. The international community, despite its many summits and conferences, has taken no substantial action to change the balance of power or end the humanitarian crisis in Syria. In its inaction, the international community has adopted a posture of neutrality, thus eroding and undermining the credibility and efficacy of the United Nations, whose chief aim is to secure international peace.

In my article War for Peace, published by the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, I make a moral and legal case for intervention in Syria. Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

منظمة التعاون الاسلامي تعلق عضوية سوريا

بدأت دول الخليج العربية إجلاء مواطنيها من لبنان يوم الخميس في أعقاب حادث خطف مرتبط بالصراع الدائر في سوريا أظهر كيف أن العنف بدأ يمتد في أنحاء المنطقة التي تعاني انقسامات طائفية.

وخطف م...سلحون لبنانيون شيعة أكثر من 20 شخصا في منطقة ببيروت يسيطر عليها حزب الله حليف النظام السوري وقالوا إنهم يحتجزون مواطنين من تركيا والسعودية وهما البلدان الرئيسيان اللذان يدعمان الانتفاضة السورية.

وطلبت السعودية والإمارات العربية المتحدة وقطر والكويت والبحرين من مواطنيها مغادرة البلاد على الفور. وبدأت بعض الدول بالفعل في إعادة مواطنيها لبلدهم.

وحذر حاتم المقداد وهو عضو بارز في عائلة المقداد الشيعية اللبنانية القوية الذي قال انه الجيش السوري الحر خطف اخيه قبل يومين من أن الوضع سيتفاقم.

وعلى الرغم من ان معارضي الرئيس السوري بشار الأسد والقوى الغربية التي تؤيدهم يصرون على أنهم يريدون تجنب العنف الطائفي مثل الذي شهده العراق فإن مقاتلي المعارضة وأغلبهم من السنة خطفوا إيرانيين ولبنانين هناك في الأسابيع القليلة الماضية قائلين إنهم ربما يعملون لصالح الأسد.
وأعلنت عائلة المقداد يوم الأربعاء إنها تحتجز أكثر من 20 شخصا منهم سعودي ورجل أعمال تركي وعدد من السوريين وصفوهم بانهم من مقاتلي الجيش السوري الحر. ومثلت هذه الخطوة ضربة للاقتصاد اللبناني الذي قام فيه سائحون من دول الخليج بدور في تعافيه بعد الحرب الأهلية التي دامت 15 عاما وانتهت عام 1990.

وقال رجل "لم نقم بعد بواحد في المئة.. لم نتحرك حقا بعد" وقال للصحفيين يوم الأربعاء إنه ورفاقه من "الجناح المسلح" لعائلة المقداد مستعدون لاتخاذ المزيد من الخطوات ضد المقاتلين السوريين في لبنان.

وقال ماهر المقداد المتحدث باسم العائلة إن آل مقداد يستهدفون فقط الجيش السوري الحر والأتراك وإن عدد المحتجزين الأتراك "من المرجح ان يرتفع".

[من قناة العربية]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Saudi Arabia Publishes its new Arbitration Law in the Official Gazette

Saudi Arabia has recently published its new Arbitration Law in the Official Gazette. For an overview and analysis, see my recent article at

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Syria’s threat to employ chemical weapons gravely violates international covenants

Syria’s threats yesterday to deploy chemical weapons against foreign invaders demonstrates the Syrian regime’s disregard for international law and the customs of civilized nations. The world first came together in 1925 to condemn the use of chemical weapons in adopting the Geneva Gas Protocol. On 29 April 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force, complementing the Geneva Gas Protocol, but much more aggressively prohibiting the use of all chemical weapons as a method of warfare.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which applies to both international and internal armed conflicts, has been adopted by nearly all of the civilized world. As of 2012, all but the following six nations have either signed or ratified the Convention: Angola, Egypt, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.

While Syria is not a State party to the Convention, the Convention has become so widely accepted as a standard of the law of war that one can argue that it has become binding as customary international law, comprised of consistent and recurrent state practice developed over time and undertaken out of a sense of legal obligation.

While Syria can argue that through its reservations, it is not bound by the Convention, a stronger argument can be made that the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons rises to the level of jus cogens, or non-derogable peremptory legal norms. Either way, Syria, by threatening to use chemical weapons, shows that it is acting outside the accepted practices of civilized nations.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Open Letter to the President of the United States

July 14, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As a member of the Syrian-American Diasporan community, I wish to convey to you my grave concerns about the massacres ongoing in Syria. As the world's sole remaining superpower, the United States has a special duty to protect the people of Syria from mass murder at the hands of their government.

The United States has been leading diplomatic efforts and calls for regime change, but Assad’s unwillingness to relinquish power has made it clear that regime change through a military intervention is the only way forward. We cannot wait for Russia to consent to a military intervention.

In 1999, our intervention in Kosovo was both legal and morally legitimate under international law, despite a Russian veto at the Security Council. Later Security Council resolutions confirmed this point.

We similarly have a responsibility to protect the Syrian people from egregious acts of violence at the hands of their State, despite Russia's objections and economic ties to Assad's regime. We must move forward and leave Russia behind on the wrong side of history.

It is my hope that we do not repeat our inaction during the Rwanda massacres of the 1990s, and that we will act on our responsibility to protect innocent civilians from egregious violations of international law at the hands of their State.


John Balouziyeh

Saturday, July 14, 2012

United States Senator John McCain's reply to my Open Letter to Congress advocating a military intervention in Syria

Senator John McCain sent me the below letter in reply to my Letter to Congress Advocating a military intervention in Syria. I was pleased to find Senator McCain's insights, and particularly his observation that the fall of Assad's regime would be the biggest strategic setback for Iran in twenty five years, conform with political realities.

July 12, 2012

Dear Mr. Balouziyeh:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent events in Syria. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

In recent months, Syria has undergone a wave of revolutionary protests demanding democratic reform and an end to the Assad regime. Rather than addressing these legitimate concerns, Bashar al Assad deployed military forces to crush peaceful demonstrations and unjustly imprison thousands of protestors. As a result, it is estimated that more than 9,000 people have been killed thus far. And there is no end in sight to the slaughter.

From the beginning, I have paid close attention to the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground. I was one of the first to call for democratic reform and an end to the Assad regime. Additionally, I was one of the original cosponsors of a bipartisan resolution calling for universal freedoms in Syria and an end to the human rights violations. I agree with President Obama’s decision to impose sanctions on Bashar al Assad and other top Syrian officials.

However, despite these and other good measures to pressure Assad to stop the killing and leave power, his campaign of violence is only escalating. It is therefore clear to me that the negotiated transition and peaceful settlement we all seek will only be possible by changing the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. That is why I have advocated providing opposition fighters in Syria with the means to defend themselves, to establish “safe zones” to protect civilians, and to take necessary steps to defend those areas, including through the use of foreign airpower.

The departure of Assad from power would bring an end to a regime in Syria that has slaughtered its own people, occupied and destabilized Lebanon, funded and armed terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, assisted foreign fighters in their journey to Iraq to kill American troops during the war, and which has for decades served as the forward operating base of the Iranian regime in the Arab world. Indeed as General Mattis, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, recently testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the fall of the Assad regime in Syria would represent “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.” This is a goal that is strongly in the U.S. national security interest, and we must do everything we can to achieve it.

Once again, thank you for writing me on this very important issue. Please be assured that I will continue to monitor the situation in Syria very closely and will keep your concerns in mind as we move forward.


John McCain
United States Senator


Friday, July 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Congress to Intervene in Syria

Following is a letter that I had sent to every United States Senator last week, advocating military intervention in Syria. This week, I had it sent to members of President Obama's administration. I ask every reader who agrees with my message to send this letter to your elected representatives. The time is now for our nation to assume its position of leadership and undertake to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.

June 29, 2012
Honorable Senator
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Senator:

Over the past sixteen months, the people of Syria have risen up against a regime that for over four decades has denied its people basic rights and freedoms. In response to demonstrations and protests, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has reacted with overwhelming force to crush an opposition movement, giving way to nearly sixteen thousand victims to date.

According to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, Syrian state agents have violated various provisions of international humanitarian law, failed to distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, and failed to exercise proportionality with respect to civilian losses. International agencies such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent were, for too long, denied access to attend to the victims of the violence. Doctors without Borders states that the Syrian government continues to deny basic medical care to injured civilians.

The international community has given the Assad regime time, but in this time, Assad has only hardened his attitude. Reports have emerged from Reuters and the AFP of systematic acts of violence against civilians at the hands of the Assad regime. The United Nations-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has reported that the government of Syria is responsible for “crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances of persons and other inhumane acts of a similar character.”

It has now become evident that diplomacy and negotiation have failed. Given Assad’s unwillingness to relinquish power, regime change through a military intervention is the only way forward. The United States cannot wait for Russia’s consent to collective security action under the United Nations Charter. Given Russia’s objection to the use of force, the international community, led by the United States, must act on its moral responsibility to protect Syrians.

This moral responsibility is rooted in international law. Under the responsibility to protect doctrine, the international community has a duty to intervene when a people suffers from egregious acts of violence at the hands of their State. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights further requires States to ensure the protection of the right to life, prohibitions on torture, and freedom of thought and expression, all of which have been violated by the Syrian regime. Whether through a community of like-minded States or through the United Nations, the United States must assume its position of leadership in defending these rights.

That the United States has passively deferred to Russia on Syria is concerning on several fronts. First, Russia’s objections to an intervention neglect a responsibility to defend international security and peace, one that Russia, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has a special duty to uphold. Second, Russia’s insistence on non-intervention is hypocritical in light of Russia’s Syria-bound shipments of attack helicopters, anti-aircraft weapons, and warships. With regiments of Russian marines and heavy weaponry being carried on such ships and Russia’s economic interest in supplying arms to Syria, the pretext of protecting Russian citizens in Syria is hardly convincing. Because Russia’s interest in armaments sales to the Syrian regime conflicts with its interest in resolving the Syrian conflict, Russian leadership on Syria lacks credibility.

In 1999, the world stood at the crossroads of a similar humanitarian intervention. Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council locked horns on the crisis in Kosovo. Despite a Russian veto, NATO undertook military action, and most observers now agree that NATO’s actions were legitimate and justified under international law.

When the events of the Syrian liberation are recounted in history, the countries that stood in silence with Russia will be judged with blood on their hands. The nations that acted to defend the Syrian people will be vindicated. Will America sit in silence as Russia protects Assad’s slaughter of the Syrian people, or will it hasten the fall of the Assad regime?

The time is now for military action to accelerate regime change. The United States, together with a coalition of allies including Great Britain, France, and Turkey, must make a clear ultimatum to Assad: he may step down now in exchange for immunity, or otherwise face consequences in the form of military action, including air strikes to neutralize Syrian intelligence and strategic bases; the establishment of a no-fly zone; safe havens in Syria and at the Turkish border; material support to the opposition in the form of armaments and other military equipment; and a media war against the Syrian regime with an aim to induce mass defections.

Given concerns prevailing as to the landscape of post-Assad Syria, Washington can condition its military support to the opposition on commitments by the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council to guarantee the rights of minorities and establish a power-sharing model under the new Constitution, where Sunni Muslims as well as Alawi and Christian minorities share power and guarantee the respect for the rule of law.

With the support of a coalition of liked-minded nations, American action in Syria need not be unilateral. Yet the international community will not act until the United States assumes its position of world leadership.


John M. B. Balouziyeh, Esq.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

الخصوصية واعتراض البيانات المعلوماتية في المملكة العربية السعودية

إن أنظمة المملكة العربية السعودية المتعلقة بالبيانات المعلوماتية مبنية على النظام الأساسي للحكم في المملكة العربية السعودية، حيث نجد أن النظام الأساسي للحكم يتطرق إلى موضوع الخصوصية كحق يتمحور حول كرامة الإنسان. فهو يصون، على سبيل المثال، المراسلات البرقية والبريدية والمخابرات الهاتفية وغيرها من وسائل الاتصال، ويحظر، فيما يحظره من أشياء، الإطلاع عليها أو الاستماع إليها إلا في الحالات التي يبينها النظام. [المادة 40 من النظام الأساسي للحكم].

وفي هذا الإطار، وانطلاقاً من مبادئ الشريعة الإسلامية التي رسخت قاعدة المسئولية التقصيرية عن الأضرار الناشئة عن الإفصاح غير القانوني عن المعلومات الشخصية الخاصة بالأفراد، فقد ركز المشرع السعودي على انتهاكات الخصوصية المتعلقة بالاتصالات وتقنية المعلومات.

فعلى سبيل المثال، نجد أن نظام الاتصالات الصادر بقرار مجلس الوزراء رقم 74 وتاريخ 5/3/1422 يحظر على مزودي خدمات الانترنت وشركات الاتصالات التقاط أي مكالمات هاتفية أو معلومات منقولة خلال شبكات الاتصالات العامة [الفقرة 7 من المادة 37]، أو تعمد الكشف – خارج نطاق الواجب – عن أي معلومات أو محتويات أي رسالة تم اعتراضها خلال إرسالها [الفقرة 13 من المادة 37]. ومن ناحية ثانية، نجد أن النظام يفرض عقوبات قد تصل إلى 5 مليون ريال سعودي (أي ما يعادل 1,3 مليون دولار أمريكي).

وفي السياق نفسه، نجد أيضا أن نظام مكافحة جرائم المعلوماتية الصادر بالمرسوم الملكي الكريم رقم م/17 وتاريخ 7/3/1428 هـ [الموافق 26/3/2007 م] يفرض عقوبات مدنية وجنائية مشددة على انتهاك سرية البيانات الشخصية وبما يشتمل على اعتراض البيانات المرسلة عن طريق الشبكة المعلوماتية دون مسوغ نظامي، أو الدخول غير المشروع إلى البيانات أو الكمبيوترات البنكية بغرض تعديل البيانات الشخصية أو مسحها أو إتلافها أو إعادة توزيعها. وقد تصل هذه العقوبات إلى 3,000,000 ريال سعودي مع السجن لمدة أربع سنوات. [المواد 3 إلى 5].

إن أنظمة حماية البيانات المعلوماتية في المملكة العربية السعودية هي أنظمة جديدة نسبيا، وهي آخذة بالنمو والتطور. وإن هذه الأنظمة تعبر عن الاعتراف العالمي المتنامي بأهمية ضبط البيانات المعلوماتية الخاصة في هذا العصر الرقمي، الأمر الذي يجب أن تدركه جميع المؤسسات المالكة لهذه البيانات.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Examining China and Russia’s Claims on Intervention in Syria in Light of International Law

After vetoing a UN resolution aimed at stopping the bloodshed in Syria, China and Russia have refused to attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis or take sides in Syria’s growing civil conflict. The basis of their policy is respect for the internal affairs of sovereign states. How does this fare in light of international law?

1.      The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states

China and Russia are correct in pointing out that states’ non-interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign states is a general principle of international law. Both customary international law as well as the UN Charter (“CUN”) recognize the territorial integrity and independence of states and prohibit military force from interfering with this integrity. The CUN states that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered” and that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations” (art. 2 CUN).

2.      The principle of non-interference is not absolute

In light of the CUN’s provisions on collective security measures, international humanitarian law, and the affirmative duty to act created under various international conventions, the principle of non-interference is not absolute and must be weighed against the duty of states to protect life and uphold fundamental liberties.

a) Collective security measures
Chapter VII of the UN Charter permits two exceptions to the principle of non-interference; the use of force is permitted when acting pursuant to: (i) UN collective security measures (arts. 42 CUN); and (ii) self-defense (art. 51 CUN). As discussed below, the first exception applies to Syria.

The Security Council may employ the use of force in order to secure peace. If the Security Council determines the existence of any threat to or breach of the peace or act of aggression, it is to make recommendations or decide what measures are to be taken to maintain or restore peace (art. 39 CUN). In order to prevent an aggravation of the situation, the Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force (e.g., sanctions, the severance of diplomatic relations, etc.) are to be employed (art. 41 CUN). However, if these measures are inadequate or ineffective, the SC may take military action “by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security” (art. 42 CUN). This represents the first important exception to the principle of non-interference.

b) The mandate to intervene in internal armed conflicts under the Geneva Conventions
Taking into account the experience of the Second World War, where civilians were systematically targeted in both internal as well as international conflicts, the international community in 1949 revised the three Geneva Conventions and adopted a fourth Geneva Convention to provide for the protection of civilians from the consequences of war. The results were the four 1949 Geneva Conventions that today deal with the treatment and protection of persons—both combatants and civilians—during armed conflict.

The Geneva Conventions also codify the rules of engagement in non-international (internal) armed conflict. Common article 3 (common to the four Geneva Conventions) is the first express codification of law for non-international armed conflicts, such as civil wars and civil insurrections. Common article 3 establishes fundamental rules from which no derogation is permitted and whose violation gives rise to individual rather than state liability. It contains the essential rules of the Geneva Conventions as applied to conflicts of a domestic (internal) character and applies to all non-combatants, including soldiers who have “laid down their arms” (surrendered) or those placed hors de combat due to injury or sickness.

Common article 3 requires that the wounded and the sick be collected and cared for and grants the International Committee of the Red Cross and other impartial humanitarian bodies the right to offer their services to the parties to the conflict. It calls on the parties to the conflict to endeavor to bring all or parts of the Geneva Conventions into force through special agreements and recognizes that the application of these rules does not affect the legal status of the parties to the conflict (art. 3(2) GC III).

Evidence of Syria’s violation of the provisions of common article 3, including but not limited to its failure to allow humanitarian aid reach the wounded and the sick and government shelling of civilian objects and neighborhoods, puts the UN Security Council in a position in which it may take measures to restore peace and enforce international law, including ordering the use of force through taking military action “as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace” (art. 42 CUN).

3.      The affirmative duty to act under international law

a)      Overview
Several international legal instruments create an affirmative duty to act when life and basic fundamental freedoms are threatened. For example, the Genocide Convention requires not only that its 140 states parties refrain from the crime of genocide, but also that they “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide (Art. I CPPG) and further pledge “to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force” of persons charged with genocide (Art. VII CPPG). The International Court of Justice thus found in the Bosnian Genocide Case (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro) (2007) that Belgrade breached international law not by committing genocide, but by failing to prevent it.

While the Genocide Convention may not apply to Syria, other international instruments do. Among the most important of these is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

b) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) (ICCPR) undertake to protect the wide range of civil and political rights, including a right to life (art. 6 ICCPR), prohibitions on torture (art. 7 ICCPR) and arbitrary arrest or detention (art. 9.1 ICCPR), a right to trial within a reasonable time of arrest or detainment (art. 9.3 ICCPR) and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 18 ICCPR), as well as freedom of expression (art. 19 ICCPR).

If reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN, the Arab League and European countries and the US are true, then Syria has violated all of the above-enumerated rights and freedoms. Under the ICCPR, states party not only agree to refrain from violating such rights, but also to ensure the protection of these rights from violation by other member states. The ICCPR thus incorporates an affirmative duty to act.

Russia, having signed and ratified the ICCPR, is bound by its provisions. China has signed but not ratified the ICCPR. It has therefore expressed its intent to ratify the Covenant, but not necessarily consent to be bound (art. 12 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties). In the period between China’s signing the treaty and the ratification thereof, it may not undertake any actions that defeat the object and purpose of the treaty (see art. 18 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties). However, though China may not be strictly speaking bound by the treaty, the provisions of the ICCPR may constitute customary international law and thus be binding on China, since the principles of the ICCPR have developed over time and have been nearly universally recognized. If these principles form “state practice,” then under the International Court of Justice Libya/Malta case (1985), they form the substance of customary law.

4.      Conclusion

If reports of violence against civilians at the hands of the Syrian regime are supported by sufficient evidence, it would be unfitting for Russia and China to base their veto and abstention from action on the principle of non-intervention. While the cited principle constitutes valid international law, it is not absolute and is trumped by the duty of states to protect life and liberty, even when doing so requires infringing on the domestic affairs of another state. Legal instruments such as the ICCPR impose on states party an affirmative duty to protect the lives of innocent civilians.