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OP-ED: Military Interventions: A challenge to U.N. Charter

NEW YORK, Sep 6 2013 (IPS) - Nobel Peace Laureate, U.S. President Barack Obama’s case for a military attack on Syria to punish Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and teach a lesson to other miscreants has lost legitimacy and international support.

Without drawing comparisons with U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, it is argued that Washington has no legal basis to intervene in Syria. It is an undeniable fact that chemical weapons have been used in Syria – killing 1,429 people. That is a despicable crime against humanity – a gross violation of International Law.

The Obama administration claims that Assad perpetrated this crime but Assad blames the rebels. There is a burden of proof on those who wish to use military force to establish beyond doubt the culpability of the Syrian regime.

According to the UN Charter, any military intervention on another country is illegal unless approved by the Security Council. And, it will not approve a military intervention in Syria as long as Russia and China raise questions about the legitimacy.

UN Security Council may authorize a military intervention, as a last resort, only after exhausting all other peaceful – diplomatic and political means. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 prohibit the use, possession and manufacture of chemical weapons – but failed to define action on violations.

Therefore, according to Articles 39 and 42 of the UN Charter, a violation gets referred to the UN Security Council to determine the appropriate course of action. Aggrieved parties can seek the intervention of UN General Assembly which can request the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion or judgment on the legality of the war, or on the determined course of action.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – approved by the UN, in 2005 – was invoked for military intervention in Libya. This can be applied if it can be proven that Assad regime killed its own people with chemical weapons.

The most sensible and appropriate action would be to refer a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). If there is strong impartial evidence to prove who committed this grave crime in Syria, the UN Security Council would vote to extradite those perpetrators before the ICC to answer for their crimes.

President Obama wants “to punish, deter and prevent use of chemical weapons” – a noble cause, I agree, but any of the peaceful means mentioned above would bring even better results.

Apart from the UN that upholds International Law, we need to use common sense. War weary people all over the world (including Americans) are deeply divided over the use of unilateral (even lawful) military force to solve international problems.

Last week, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, speaking on behalf of the 11-member group “The Elders” suggested: “We urge all member states to await the report of the U.N. inspectors on the use of chemical weapons in Syria … before deciding on the course of action.”

Also, six Nobel Peace laureates called upon the United States and its allies to use the international legal system, primarily the International Criminal Court (ICC), to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Even America’s ally Britain backed out of war. British Prime Minister Cameron said that “there is no 100 percent certainty about who is responsible” for the chemical attack on Syrians.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. speaking against a U.S. military strike on Syria said: “First, it’s not our responsibility. It’s not our responsibility to act unilaterally. Secondly, it’s not going to do any good. It’s not going to change the regime. It’s not going to end the civil war. It’s not even going to prevent a new strike and use of chemical warfare. Third, it’s expensive, and, fourth, it’s dangerous. It could easily spin out of control”. These words represent the common sense views of many U.S. legislators who oppose military action against Syria.

First, the death and destruction in Syria is due to its civil war, and there is no evidence as to who perpetrated the crime. Secondly, in the midst of crisis and chaos in the Middle East, a military intervention in Syria would escalate the Syrian conflict into something more dangerous. It could no doubt breed more anti-U.S. resentment in the region, and have serious political ramifications on the currently strained relations between the United States, Russia and China.

Syria’s civil war has already claimed 200,000 dead, two million refugees burdening neighboring countries, and over four million displaced inside Syria. Assad has failed, and he must go. It is the responsibility of the Syrians – not of the United States – to find a solution.

If the United States is really interested in ending the crisis in Syria, President Obama can muster the support of Russia, China and other countries to find a viable peaceful settlement based on an inclusive political process.

Forget the Red Line, forget American Prestige, forget the mindset to Police the whole world. Feed and educate your children, develop your failing infrastructure, provide employment, and improve the ruined economy. That is the prestige, the honor and the legacy President Obama can leave behind.

Somar Wijayadasa is the former Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations.

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