“Actions outside the Security Council would be illegal interventions and constituted crimes against peace or else aggressive acts, and those who decide on them would have to be brought to justice accordingly”
thk. Syria was the dominant topic during the first days of the UN Human Rights Council session. Already on the second day of the spring session the Western states urged for a special meeting to deal with the events in Syria. The extremely biased media reports about the situation in Syria were mirrored by the statements of several countries. Similar to their unambiguous position in the Security Council Russia and China took a clear stance inspired by international law, bringing reason to this emotional debate that way. Obviously the West aims for another «Regime-Change» following the Libyan recipe and human rights violations are meant to provide justification for an intervention. In the following interview, US-American international law expert Professor Alfred de Zayas judges the situation in the Near East from the viewpoint of international law and also talks about the war preparations against Iran.
Zeit-Fragen: Some countries especially from the West, keep issuing statements about Syria at the Human Rights Council here in Geneva. As it seems, the West is urging for a mandate to militarily intervene like in Libya. How should we see that from a standpoint of international law?
Professor de Zayas: When we are talking about Syria, we should bear in mind why the United Nations were founded in the first place. We learn from the preamble that the objective of the UN is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to protect people from conflicts and to solve conflicts peacefully. The principles and aims are made very clear in the UN Charter. This includes the policy of non-intervention. But what was at stake here was a conversion, a revolution, a corruption of the United Nations. The transformation of an organization of peace, a peace-promoting and peace-keeping organization into an organization engaging in «Regime-Change» this is totally against meaning and spirit of the UN Charter.
The Libya resolution was meant to protect the Libyan civilian population; however it was interpreted in a completely different way. The resolution was abused as a pretext to wage war and to overthrow the government. This is a turning point. The Russians and Chinese drew their consequences from this. If one intends to interfere in a civil war in order to protect the civilian population, this can be debated. But this resolution was abused; therefore China and Russia won’t put up with it any longer.
Is it fair to say that the veto of Russians and Chinese strengthened international law?
Absolutely. There was a real threat here for the principle of non-intervention, the principle of non-violence. To break down. It is also a vote for legal security. If resolutions get abused as in the case of Libya, one has to make it very clear to those responsible for the abuse that it is unacceptable, that it will not happen again. Should they wish to act outside the UN this would constitute a crime. It is a crime as defined by the ICC statute member states according to Article 5 of the International Criminal Court. If it had taken place outside the Security Council, it would immediately have been regarded as a crime and aggressive act, and those who decided upon this would have to be brought to justice accordingly.
In this line of argument any intervention bypassing the UN is definitely a war crime?
The question is, whether NATO would dare to intervene in Syria without resolution of the Security Council the same way as they did in the case of Yugoslavia. Syria is in geographical proximity to Russia and Russia will not put up with that. It is well-known that the Russians will take certain protective measures in such a situation. NATO has to think very carefully how this could escalate. At the time of the NATO intervention in Serbia, Russia was relatively weak. The reemergence of the Russians was still to come. I believe it is a totally different situation today as compared with the year 1999; it is not so easy any more to intervene. The intervention of NATO or rather of the so-called «coalition of the willing» in Iraq in 2003 would prove much more difficult today.
What is the task then of the UN in this situation?
The UN functions as a moderator for dialogue. We have all bodies for a reasonable and peaceful settlement of differences between states, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Security Council and the General Assembly in the USA. These are all arenas where differences between states may be articulated without engaging in violence. Article II para 4 of the UN charter is a legal proposition; it rules that the use of violence is prohibited, even the threat or aggressive gesture.
At the moment it is not only Syria, where we have an escalation…
If I look at Syria, the situation in Iran worries me even more. Whether Iran aims for the atomic bomb or not, is something we cannot tell any better than the International Atomic Energy Agency. Of course we would like to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is exactly why the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was introduced.
What was the objective behind it?
According to Article 6 of the NPT, this is quite explicit: nuclear disarmament. Total disarmament of all nuclear states. That is the USA, France, Britain, Russia and China. Considering that a number of nuclear states who possess nuclear weapons have never signed the Non-proliferation Treaty, namely India, Pakistan and Israel, one should not get hysterical about the possibility of Iran perhaps one day owning nuclear weapons, too. Even if Iran had them, they could never use them. As soon as Iran would use a nuclear bomb, it would face total annihilation. The Iranian government knows that very well. It is the same what we have already known in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the possible nuclear destruction. The question, whether Iran has an atomic bomb or not, should not drive the world community into hysteria.
There are already thousands of atomic weapons around in the established nuclear states, and those weapons are not getting used. Why should one expect Iran to start a nuclear war? Actually, this would be quite obvious for any reasonable politician and hardly comprehensible.
Is that not further warmongering?
A cool analysis of the situation in Iran is one thing, another one is the agitation against Iran which can be read anywhere in the media today. Taking into account that this kind of war propaganda is actually prohibited by Article 20 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is striking to note, that the press in the USA, in Great Britain and partially also in Germany is doing just that – engaging in war propaganda against Iran, using lies, half-information emotionalizations among other things, which cannot really stand up to serious scrutiny. Nevertheless an atmosphere is created in the USA by constantly repeated messages via FOX News and CNN, programming peoples’ minds into thinking that Iran poses the greatest threat to world peace. I think this can easily be pushed aside. It is what we in the USA call a «red herring», a method to fool people.
How could these tensions be solved?
A real disarmament of the region should be the priority. Basically, disarmament of the world would be desirable. Let us begin with the Near East. If we achieved a nuclear disarmament and a conventional one in the Near East, this would be a brave act. Israel would also join in because there is no international law at leisure, there is no sideway which is open to one state, but not for the other.
This would mean to comply with the Non-proliferation Treaty?
This is clearly the disarmament, as stipulated in Article 6 of the Treaty. This means that all states possessing nuclear weapons undertake to disarm. They have not done so far. This violation of the NPT is a much more blatant violation on the side of the nuclear powers than on the side of Iran. According to Article 3 of the treaty, Iran has been given the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and even the right to international assistance in order to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear power. It is just a matter relating to Article 4, if the IAEA inspections are thorough, or whether the inspections have been undermined. It is a matter of argument, but it has never been a casus belli or a reason to provoke a quarrel or preemptive war. It should also be mentioned that the UN Charter concerning Article 51 is very clear: The right to self-defense exists, but there is no pre-emptive right to do so. I cannot say that Iran poses a potential threat, ergo you may attack Iran. It applies only when a country has been attacked and had no time to address the Security Council in order to get the UN involved directly; only in this case you have the right to immediate counter-measures, i.e. war, until the Security Council has become involved. The very moment, in which the Security Council takes over, defensive measures have to stop. That is, what Article 51 of the UN Charter means. It is not to be understood as a lex specialis that discards or replaces everything else. It represents a very limited possibility under very restricted conditions. If not, it is a crime against peace as defined by the Nuremberg Verdict and as described in Article 5 of the ICC Statute. •