Public International Law & Policy Group concludes there is sufficient legal basis for humanitarian intervention in Syria

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

The Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) has just released a legal memorandum setting forth the legal basis for humanitarian intervention in Syria.

The PILPG’s press release announcing the memorandum is as follows:- 

Under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (“R2P”), there is a sufficient legal basis to use military force against the Syrian regime for the limited purpose of stopping the ongoing and dramatically escalating atrocity crimes.
As the Syria crisis continues there is a dramatic intensification of the commission of atrocity crimes.  To date, Syrian forces have killed over 15,000 civilians, including over 2,000 in July 2012 alone.  Tens of thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring countries.  Diplomatic measures and sanctions have proven ineffective, and the Security Council is paralyzed with Russia and China having vetoed three Security Council resolutions aimed at stopping the violence.
The memorandum analyzes the Syria crisis through the lens of R2P.  Because there are ongoing atrocity crimes in Syria, peaceful measures have been exhausted, and the Security Council is deadlocked, there is a sufficient legal basis for the international community to use force for the limited purpose of stopping atrocity crimes and protecting civilians.  Military intervention in Syria would be legal, even without prior Security Council approval, as long as it satisfied R2P’s procedural and operational safeguards. 

Thanks to Brianne McGonigle Leyh, Co-Director of PILPG (Netherlands Office) and researcher and lecturer at Utrecht University’s Netherlands Institute of Human Rights for drawing our attention to this press release.


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