REPRISE–Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Late News—-

See MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, “U.S. Moves to Block Russian Military Buildup in Syria,” New York Times, September 8, 2015.

Vladimir Putin is now engaged in extremely dangerous brinksmanship in Syria, apparently introducing Russian troops and special operations forces to bolster the collapsing Bashar al-Assad regime—in a war theater in which U.S. and allied air forces and NATO member Turkey have become militarily active.

Vladimir Putin, the veteran chess master, has moved a big piece on the international chessboard, as European leaders are overwhelmed by the waves of refugees and immigrants now roaming through their territories, while EU sanctions against Russia for its invasions of the Ukraine must be renewed by July 15, with the formal written approval of all 28 governments, or they will lapse. Even a lapse of a few days could have huge and unforeseen consequences.

This is a wonderful playing field for Mr. Putin, but one in which miscalculation, accident or the unexpected could hurtle the nuclear superpowers into a direct and escalating conflict with the potential for nuclear war.

Putin seems convinced he can out outbluff Barack Obama in any nuclear showdown. This could lead to dangerous miscalculations in dealing with an American government whose strategic nuclear decisions could be taken not by a vacillating President Obama acting alone, but rather by a united national security team including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the country’s military leaders, acting in concert with the president.

At such a juncture, it is useful to recall that Russia is complicit under international law for the past and ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime and its supporters.

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REPRISE:  Syria: Russia and Iran complicit under International Law in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” The Trenchant Observer, June 16, 2013.

Sergei Lavrov argues that Russia has to supply modern weapons systems to Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria in accordance with contracts that have already been signed, and warns the West and the Arab countries that any military action such as establishing a no-fly zone in Syria (without U.N. Security Council authorization), would violate international law.

Staff and Agencies, “Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia; Comments by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov underline G8 challenge faced by US in trying to gain support for intervention,” The Guardian, June 15, 2013 (07:11 EDT).

However, as Lavrov makes this argument, one central fact must be kept foremost in mind:

Under International Law, Russia and Iran are themselves complicit in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria. The Russians have knowingly supplied weapons, training and personnel to assist al-Assad’s forces in the commission of such crimes. Both Russia and Iran have helped finance the continuing commission, with their own ongoing advice and participation, of these crimes.

Consequently, they themselves are guilty of the commission of these crimes.

On the relevant international law on complicity in the commission of international crimes, see

Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Introductory front matter for the book, including a table of contents, is found here.

For a summary of Aust’s book, see Michael Byers, Book Review of Helmut Philipp Aust, Complicity and the Law of State Responsibility, in 23 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (EJIL), pp. 583–589 (2012). The full text of the book review is found here.

For an earlier (1996) treatment of the subject, see Bernard Graefrath, “Complicity in the Law of International Responsibility,” 1996 REVUE BELGE DE DROIT INTERNATIONAL, No. 2, pp. 370-381. The full text of the article can be found here.

In view of the above, when Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders sit down with Vladimir Putin at the G-8 meeting in Belfast on Monday, June 17, they should all bear in mind that they are in the presence of a Russian president who is responsible for Russian aid and assistance to al-Assad’s regime in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that as a result Russia itself is guilty of committing these crimes.

Putin and Russia cannot cynically argue that they are allowed to assist al-Assad in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, incurring international responsibility, while under international law the West and the Arab states can do nothing to help protect their victims.

That is not where international law is, today, in 2013.

For an idea of the crimes they are supporting, see the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles 1, 7 & 8, which largely represent a codification of existing customary international law relating to these international crimes. The text of the Statute of the ICC is found here.

It goes without saying that the commission of all international crimes in Syria must be stopped, including those committed by the insurgents.

The Trenchant Observer

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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