March 25, 2012

International Association of Democratic Lawyers Opposes Military Force Against Syria and Iran

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The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), a non-governmental organization having consultative status with the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is dedicated to uphold international law, particularly the peaceful resolution of disputes as set forth in the UN Charter and basic human rights instruments.

IADL notes with concern that while the UN Human Rights Council is on the verge of adopting a new, updated declaration on the Human Right to Peace, the major Western powers are poisoning the atmosphere by creating hysteria to wage war against Syria and Iran. The IADL condemns in the strongest possible terms these threats to international peace and security which are prohibited by the UN Charter and the doctrine of jus cogens.

IADL is alarmed by the events occurring in Syria. Media reports show mounting levels of violence by both government forces and defected army units and other armed gangs. The violence is taking a heavy toll, leaving hundreds of people dead, and thousands wounded and traumatized with dramatic effects particularly on women, children and innocent civilians. This must be stopped immediately, by resort to peaceful, diplomatic means, to help the Syrian people stop the violence.

IADL strongly condemns the killing of civilians under any circumstances. The targeting of civilians violates the Geneva Conventions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Those States that violate these laws must be held accountable.

The UN Charter commands that all Members settle their international disputes by peaceful means, to maintain international peace, security, and justice. Members must also refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The Charter does not permit the use of military force under the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

Western countries and the mainstream media are advocating military intervention in Syria using the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as a justification.

The Responsibility to Protect is contained in the General Assembly’s Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit. It is not enshrined in any international instrument. Paragraph 139 says that the international community, through the UN, has “the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Chapter VI of the Charter requires parties to a dispute likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security to “first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Chapter VIII governs “regional arrangements,” such as the Arab League, and the African Union. It specifies that regional arrangements “shall make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements . . .”

It is only when peaceful means have been tried and proved inadequate that the Security Council can resort to forceful action under Chapter VII of the Charter. That action includes boycotts, embargoes, severance of diplomatic relations, and even military blockades or operations by air, sea or land. Chapter VII only authorizes the Council to order these forceful measures in order to maintain or restore international peace and security, not to restore domestic order within a state such as Syria.

NATO’s military invasion of Libya sought to be justified by reference to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which begins with the call for “the immediate establishment of a ceasefire.” The resolution authorizes UN Member States “to take all necessary measures . . . to protect civilians and civilian populated areas” of Libya.

But rather than pursuing an immediate ceasefire, immediate military action was taken instead. The military force exceeded the bounds of the “all necessary measures” authorization. “All necessary measures” should first have been peaceful measures to settle the conflict. Yet peaceful means were not exhausted before the military invasion began. A high level international team – consisting of representatives from the Arab League, the African Union, and the UN Secretary General – should have been dispatched to Tripoli to attempt to negotiate a real cease-fire, and set up a mechanism for elections and for protecting civilians.

IADL categorically opposes any foreign intervention – including economic, political, and military interference – in the internal affairs of the Syrian people. IADL further calls for an immediate end to violence from all sides to the conflict, and a peaceful resolution of the dispute, in accordance with the UN Charter.

IADL is also extremely alarmed at threats of war against Iran from the leaders of Israel and the United States. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that Iran is developing nuclear weapons despite evidence to the contrary.

Both the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 2011 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate have found no evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program. Under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has the legal right to produce nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

IADL strongly condemns the position that Israel has a sovereign “right” to take unilateral military action against Iran. Article 2 of the Charter requires the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

A state can use military force against another state in only two situations. First, under Article 51 of the Charter, a state can act in individual or collective self-defense to respond to an attack against a UN member state. A state can act in self-defense only until the Security Council becomes seized of the matter.

Iran has not attacked any country in some 200 years. Iran is not a threat to Israel’s security. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This classic principle of self-defense in international law has been affirmed by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN General Assembly. IADL condemns the position of the United States that it will not hesitate to attack with military force to “prevent” it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The other exception to the Charter’s prohibition on the use of military force is when the Security Council approves the armed intervention. The Council has not sanctioned an armed attack on Iran.

Security Council Resolution 687, that ended the first Gulf War, requires a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Israel, which reportedly has an arsenal of 200-400 nuclear weapons, stands in violation of that resolution. Israel refuses to sign the NPT, thus avoiding inspections by the IAEA.

Last month, Iran offered to restart negotiations with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany regarding its nuclear program. Israel’s position is that Iran must halt all uranium enrichment and the suspension must be verified by the IAEA before negotiations with Iran can resume. This is unacceptable as Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

IADL opposes threats of war by Israel and the United States. IADL calls on all parties to negotiate a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the crisis. Iran should be allowed to continue limited enrichment on Iranian soil under strict monitoring by the IAEA.

IADL urges all states and peoples in the region to live in mutual respect according to the principles of the UN Charter.

IADL urges the international community to uphold international law, in particular the principles of the UN Charter, and work to realize the Human Right to Peace.

Marjorie Cohn is deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.