An inconvenient question about Syria

These attacks by the government:

Heavy shelling and gunfire has rocked the Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour, two days into a military assault that has caused more than 5,000 refugees to flee into neighbouring Turkey.

The continued assault suggests some groups in the town are resisting the armed forces as the regime tries to crush a sustained challenge to President Bashar al-Assad.

Now yes, it\’s not a democracy, Assad is a dictator, the regime is a shitty and oppressive one.

However, it\’s very difficult to see that they\’re doing anything wrong in law.

They are the de facto and de jure government of the country. One of the rights that such a government has is the putting down of armed rebellion.

As we did in 1916 in Dublin for example, or Weimar did with Hitler\’s Beer Hall Putsch, Kerensky\’s Government could have (should have!) shot every Bolshevik with a gun in their hands.

If you win you\’re freedom fighters of course. And we might well decide that we prefer those would be freedom fighters to the thugs who currently rule the place and thus support them. For example, Ghadaffi…we support those who would overthrow him but it\’s difficult to see that he\’s illegally putting down an armed rebellion: it\’s the most basic \”right\” that a de jure government has, to defend itself against armed overthrow.

So the inconvenient question is: just what is the Syrian Government doing that is wrong in law?

14 thoughts on “An inconvenient question about Syria”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    I don’t like to complain here but someone who is happy with British Coroners second guessing what Squaddies are doing in Iraq is actually asking this question?

    I agree most of this is hypocrisy – the Syrians are being condemned for showing the Guardian, the UN and the European Left as the gutless, mass murderer loving hypocrites they are. The European Left prefers it when their friends murder people out of sight and cover it up with some sort of euphemism.

    Yet there is an actual valid point – States have a duty and responsibility to repress armed violence, yes, but they do not have an unlimited choice of means to do this. No chemical weapons a la Saddam for instance. To be honest the use of artillery against civilians looks a little extreme. As does shooting unarmed protesters as has been documented thanks to mobile phones.

    But mostly it is that hypocrisy thing.

  2. If the Government can be removed peacefully through the ballot box then those rebelling are terrorists, if not then they are freedom fighters.

    OK, a bit simplistic but we’ve got to start somewhere.

  3. I’ve never understood this concept of “you can kill people, so long as you aren’t nasty about it”. Like, you can use bombs but not gas. Or, you can blow their limbs off, but don’t do anything cruel now.

    It seems to me that most of the nasties are banned on the basis that they might kill women and children rather than disposable men. There’s a good argument that the thing that has prevented war in Europe since WWII isn’t the EU or anything like that, it’s the development of bombers and missiles, which put women at a similar risk to disposable men.

  4. The syrian regime won’t allow challenges to its authority via the ballot box, ergo it is de facto illegitimate so any actions it takes are illegitimate. This isn’t a democratically elected state resisting armed violence but a gangster state maintaining its position

    Tim adds: This is in essence declaring that they’re the de facto but not de jure government of the place. Fine with me, but not what international law actually says.

  5. Whilst what Simon F says is far from a total solution, it is at least a starting point.

    A government that is not accountable, lacks legitimacy. So talking in strictly legal terms is inherently not good enough. However, issues of practicality and degree of illegitimacy are just as important factors.

  6. In a simplistic view of state sovereignty, Syria is doing nothing wrong, in the sense of illegal. However, very likely it has signed up to a number of accords – I’d guess it belongs to the UN, has signed various conventions about human rights etc – which it is violating.

  7. What is Syria/Libya doing wrong?

    Well they are not behaving as sanctimonious, attention-seeking, Western so-called leaders would have them.

    These are the same bunch who are progressively eroding democracy at Home, whilst championing it abroad.

  8. “A government that is not accountable, lacks legitimacy.”

    How “accountable” does a government have to be to be “legitimate”?

    There are numerous changes our own government could make to make itself more accountable. It actively resists making them or even discussing them. Is it “legitimate”?

  9. What is Syria doing wrong?’ is an interesting question, Tim. My guess is that m’learned friends could argue that, though the Assad regime is recognised as the de jure government of Syria, its response to legitimate protest has been disproportionate, inhumane and unreasonable, and that in consequence some Syrian citizens are acting in legitimate self-defence, not rebelling, by opposing the government with violence.

  10. Whose law are we talking about here?

    I don’t know, in this case, that we need to tie ourselves in knots about democratic legitimacy. That residents are fleeing to neighbouring countries, carrying with them stories of indiscriminate violence, suggests that the Syrians are going beyond a fairly brutal attempt to restore order into areas like collective punishment and blatant disregard for unarmed civilians.

    So to come back to my initial question, if we’re talking Syrian law, then I don’t much care about what Syrian law says about that from the point of view of judging their actions. They could declare their actions to be internally “legal”, but they breach Syria’s international obligations under the ICCPR and that’s enough to make its behaviour internationally illegal. And international obligations trump domestic activity.

    If Syria wants out of international obligations then they should get out. But presently, they’re obliged to act in a certain way and they’re not.

  11. What Syria is doing wrong is not attacking Israel. If he was using the same tactics against Israeli Jews, the Guardian would be writing articles about a “gentle, soft spoken optician” or whatever he is.

  12. Nothing wrong in international law though there is a case that the previous Hama massacre of 20,000 civilians was genocide and thus deligitimises the regime, though nobody much here complained or even reported it at the time.

    In any case since British leaders are engaged in a purely aggressive war (war crime) against Libya & have been against Iraq and Yugoslavia and have actively participated in the Krajina genocide in Croatia; ethnic cleansing and probably genocide in Bosnia; and had direct responsibility for massacres, genocide, ethnic cleansing, the sexual ensalvement of schoolgirls and the dissection of living people to steal their body organs in Kosovo I do not think any of them can claim any right, other than bigger guns, to criticise Gaddafi or Assad (or obviously Milosevic, Karadzic & Mladic who are clearly innocent).

  13. The only true concern should be: Is it in our national interest, all thing considered, to remove ______? (Your ‘our’ may not be my ‘our’.)

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