Updated: Sunday, 19th November 2017 @ 8:06am

David Cameron's threats of military action on Syria broke international law, claim Manchester professors

David Cameron's threats of military action on Syria broke international law, claim Manchester professors

By Dan Windham

The UK may have already broken international laws over their aggressive stance in the Syrian crisis, according to two professors from the University of Manchester.

Plans for British intervention were today dropped after parliament was recalled – citing the need for more compelling evidence.

However, their expressed readiness to use force against Syria earlier this week in reaction to the chemical attack may have already constituted a violation of international law, according to the two professors.

Jean D’aspremont, Professor of International Law, said: “One should not forget that the UN charter prohibits threats to use force.

“The recent positions taken by the United Kingdom, France, and the United States as well as the preparatory acts they have taken for subsequent military actions, already put these countries in violation of their international obligations.”

The UK government are due to publish legal advice and intelligence on the attack near Damascus on August 21.

They hope to prove President Assad’s involvement after Labour was left undecided over whether to support the Government’s motion.

Yet such hostile discourse of retaliation, even if Syria’s guilt is proven, is still condemned by International Law.

It prohibits states to use force or take retributive action against another country – or to make threats of doing so.

“This type of narrative is bewildering,” Dr. D’aspremont continued.

“The use of chemical weapons, even if it were factually established and attributed to Syria, would not, in itself, allow other states to use of force against that country as International Law does not allow punitive or retributive resorts to force, even for the most egregious acts.”

David Cameron will have to wait for UN inspectors’ chemical weapons report – as the Syrian government insists it was not to blame for the attacks.

The PM had justified his earlier appetite for a military response by arguing that Syrian government had the ‘motive and opportunity’ to use these weapons and their use of them constituted a crime against humanity.

But Iain Scobbie, Professor of International Law at Manchester University, disagrees.

“The UK government’s motion on Syria, which proposed waiting for a UN Security Council decision before MPs vote on any military action, is highly questionable,” he said.

“It is far from certain that, given the nature of the conflict, the egregious acts in Syria necessarily qualify as a war crime or crime against humanity, that such a crime is attributable to Syria and that the principle of humanitarian action is recognised by international law.”

Cameron’s threat of military action would still be a breach of International Law even though he’s claimed that Syria’s use of chemicals constitutes a war crime.

The 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol and 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention are the two main treaties which ban the use of chemical weapons; however Syria is not a party to the 1993 Convention.

“The use of chemical weapons is a war crime within the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court only if they are used in an international armed conflict, which the conflict in Syria is not, however their use could be seen as constituting the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population in a non-international armed conflict,” said Dr. Scobbie.

“The problem here is that Syria is not a party to the ICC Statute.”

Picture courtesy of Guillaume Paumier, with thanks.

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