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Unilateral Military Action in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Right to Humanitarian Intervention or a Crime of Aggression?

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On 29 August 2013 the UK government officially endorsed humanitarian intervention as a legal basis for using force against Syria. The UK government stated that if its action in the Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take ‘exceptional measures’ in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The UK government claimed that such a legal basis is available, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, provided three conditions are met: (i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief; (ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and (iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose). It concluded that all three conditions would clearly be met in the case of Syria. This article argues that UK’s legal position is flawed and not supported by the permitted exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force under Charter of the United Nations.

Affiliations: 1: Reader in Law and Director, Centre for International and Public Law (CIPL), Brunel University, London,


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