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.