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UNC Roundtable Discussion Focuses On Syria

Pictured: Aleppo, Syria; courtesy AP Photo/Narciso Contreras

CHAPEL HILL – Over the weekend President Barack Obama sought Congressional approval before taking military action in response to Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons, putting the likelihood of U.S. military intervention in the balance.  As a result, UNC has commissioned a roundtable discussion on the increasing tensions surrounding the conflict.

Panel member, Professor Mark Weisburd, is a specialist in international law, and teaches civil procedure, international law and a course on international human rights for the UNC School of Law.

The roundtable discussion, being held Tuesday from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the FexEx Global Education Center, features panel members from the UNC scholarly community, in addition to National Security Fellows from the UNC-Triangle Institute for Security Studies. The event was organized by Professor Wayne Lee, Chair of the UNC’s Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense.

“I believe that it is the obligation of every citizen to take an interest in important public questions, and surely using force in any matter of international relations is an important public question,” Weisburd said.

Mark Weisburd

Mark Weisburd

Weisburd said his talk will focus on the international legal aspects of a U.S. intervention in Syria. Specifically, he will consider the body of law that regulates how independent countries deal with one another, and how an U.S. intervention would challenge the Charter of the United Nations.

“The U.N. Charter unequivocally forbids it [an intervention],” Weisburd said. “Under the Charter, the only circumstance in which one country can use force against a second country without the permission of the Security Council of the U.N., which, of course, is not available here, would be in self-defense.”

Weisburd said that using force to prevent war crimes, or to punish a country for war crimes, is not contemplated by the U.N. Charter. He added that in situations such as this, it is often a case of conflicting rationales of the responsibility to intervene, versus adhering to the Charter.

“When the NATO countries bombed Serbia in connection with the Kosovo Crisis, there were a good many international lawyers who found themselves very puzzled with what to say. On the one hand, they believed it was the right thing to do, on the other hand, they couldn’t very well ignore the charter, so you had a number of international lawyers insisting that  bombing Kosovo was A.) illegal and B.) legitimate.”

When Russia engaged in a war with Georgia in 2008, Weisburd explained that Russia gave the justification of humanitarian intervention in order to protect the population in secessionist regions of Georgia.

“One can doubt the good faith of that assertion, but the reason I mention it is of course, if one country can say they are intervening in order to act in a humanitarian way, so can another country,” he said.

Weisburd cited the U.N.-supported doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which provides for the international community to intervene when a government is not protecting its own citizens. He said it is not an idea with which he agrees, nor is it an international legal obligation, but the R2P initiative continues to circulate among international lawyers and is considered by some to apply to the crisis in Syria.

“The basic idea of the Responsibility to Protect is that if push comes to shove, and there are dangers of serious humanitarian crises in a particular country, and that country’s government is unwilling or unable to deal with it, outside governments have the responsibility to take action,” Weisburd said.

The United Nations has estimated that as many as 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, and more than 1.7 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries.

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