Tag Archive | "civil war"

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The European Refugee Crisis: Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Children

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The refugee and migrant influx into Europe continues. Since January 2015 approximately 1.2 million people have journeyed across the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe. The majority arrive in Europe by sea, while almost 34,900 refugees and migrants arrived by land. These individuals are fleeing economic and social breakdown such as conflict, violence, and poverty, with the largest numbers leaving Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The crisis has had a substantial impact on children. UNICEF’s advocacy brief on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe describes this crisis as a “children’s crisis.” By the end of December 2015, 1 in 3 refugees and migrants in Europe were children. And, based on arrivals in Europe since January 1, 2016, 27% were children.

Especially vulnerable are unaccompanied children. Children are among the most at risk of refugees and migrants – at risk of trafficking, exploitation, abuse, death, rape, and detention, among others. Unaccompanied children are those under the age of 18 years old and travelling alone. In 2015, approximately 25% of child asylum claims were made by unaccompanied and separated minors. However, it is difficult to gather accurate numbers of unaccompanied children because either they are not registering at borders or the country does not allow for their identification in formal registration procedures.

So, what is global community’s responsibility in addressing the issue of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children? According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protection of unaccompanied children is a state obligation. One response to the problem of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe was that of the United Kingdom, which passed the Immigration Act 2016, Section 67. The Act specifies that the “Secretary of State must… make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.” It further specifies that the number of children to be resettled will be determined by the government in consultation with local authorities. The Act does not specify a fixed number on arrivals in order to assess the local governments capacity and ability to help. The purpose is to resettle unaccompanied refugee children who have fled conflict in the Middle East and whom it is in their best interest to be transferred to the UK.

Although there are real considerations as to capacity and ability of countries to help unaccompanied refugee children, a greater effort should be made by the global community in collaboration with one another and individually to assist this especially vulnerable population as well as the refugee and migrant population as a whole.

Hannah Mitchell is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Photo Credit: Fernando Vergara/AP

The Road Ahead for Colombia, as FARC Agrees to Peace

Photo Credit: Fernando Vergara/AP

Photo Credit: Fernando Vergara/AP

The Western Hemisphere has reason to celebrate… The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia finally agreed to end the longest running armed conflict of the Americas.  Colombia’s Marxist FARC (“Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia”) rebel group began as a peasant uprising against the national government in 1964.  The group’s ideologies encompass Marxism, the antithesis of capitalism, and advocates for values such as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”  Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, has been in negotiations with the group for the past four years.  Although the peace accord has Santos’ blessing and FARC’s acquiescence, the Columbian nation will keep its fingers crossed that voters approve the deal in a national referendum.

The peace agreement will wrap up over a half a century of conflict, close to a quarter of a million deaths, and over 5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the ravaged nation.  (Some estimates of the FARC conflict even have the number of IDPs in Colombia upwards of 8 million.)  The controversial peace pact will grant rebel combatants amnesty for any and all crimes committed during conflict.  This reality is painful for many in the country who’ve witnessed FARC forces thrive though kidnapping, extortion, and involvement in illicit drug trade.  Additionally, the accord will allow rebel forces to form a political party and seek political office.

The deal will also have a profound impact on Columbia’s illegal narcotics industry as it requires farmers to destroy coca plants- the source of cocaine manufacturing.  This land will then be redistributed to former FARC rebels and facilitate new crop industries directed towards job creation on their behalf.  As FARC forces step down from cocaine trading, an event anticipated with both optimism and skepticism, this begs the question of who may be waiting in the wings of the jungle to claim control of the lucrative drug crop which supplies about 60 percent of the world’s cocaine.  After all, these billions of acres of emerald green coca crops have brought in $2.4B – $3.5B annually for the FARC organization, and that is not an effortless surrender.

Arguably its greatest accomplishment, the peace agreement calls for the release of child soldiers.  The first group of minor ex-militants was released to the Red Cross this past week, with FARC leaders stating “We the FARC believe that the outing of minors from war zones is only the first step towards a better future for new generations.”  The Colombian army estimates that roughly half of its soldiers became FARC combatants as children.  This relentless recruitment of children over the past fifty-plus years constitutes egregious abuse to the minors’ innocence, in violation of several human rights conventions, and is recognized as a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  In 2000, the world’s first international treaty focused on ending the military exploitation of minors came into being- OPAC, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The treaty prohibits the conscription of children under the age of 18 and their participation in hostilities. It also prohibits the voluntary recruitment of children by non-state armed groups, although it allows state armed forces to recruit from age 16, as long as the children recruited are not sent to war. However, the promise of peace may not be the end of struggle for these “child soldiers,” but rather a different beginning as it will be the first time some of the insurgents have surrendered arms in their lifetime.  Furthermore, the former soldiers will likely need appropriate DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) programs to facilitate their successful re-entry into a society of post-conflict peace- without arms.

If history has taught us anything, it is that violence begets violence.  While the ceasefire may be a wonderful beginning to peace within Colombia, there are still many ancillary hurdles that the nation will need to overcome as a unified front.  Nonetheless the peace accord is a giant step towards an end of possibly not acceptance, but certainly understanding, between Santos’ government, FARC forces, and the nation’s people.  It is an agreement that highlights the country’s determination and cooperation… and most deserving of the world’s respect and praise.

Tahli Salem is a third year law student and staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Photo Credit: Federico Rios/Native - NYTimes

A Bittersweet Ending to the Longest Civil War in Latin America: Colombia-FARC

Photo Credit: Federico Rios/Native - NYTimes

Photo Credit: Federico Rios/Native – NYTimes

Colombia has struggled for decades to combat the illegal drug trade, terrorism, and violence that FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) has contributed to since 1966. Known for being one of the richest guerrilla armies in the world,  FARC has approximately 8,000 rebel fighters that control many rural areas in the south and eastern portions of the country. Most of the economic support for this guerrilla group comes from the illegal drug trade, profits from high profile kidnappings, extortion, and “taxes” it collects from those individuals who reside in areas that they control.

Many administrations have tried to bring peace to Colombia by eradicating, fighting, and even negotiating with FARC, none of which have been successful until President Juan Manuel Santos came into office. On August 24, 2016, the Colombian government announced a cease fire peace deal with FARC rebels, putting an end to the 50-year conflict. In the same peace deal, the FARC agreed to set free the children soldiers they kidnapped and enslaved to serve in its army.

But what did Colombia and its government really have to sacrifice in order to strike this peace deal? FARC is known to have committed massacres, kidnapped, extorted, and forced children into labor and servitude. These crimes are internationally condemned. However, now that this treaty will be put in place, those FARC members who will confess to their crimes, will get reduced sentences, in many instances community service. Is community service a fair punishment for those who have committed human rights violations for 50 years?

Colombian Ex-President doesn’t seem to think so. Alvaro Uribe, has publicly criticized the cease-fire as an amnesty and has accused President Santos of being a traitor. Part of this criticism is rooted in the idea that the peace deal seeks to reintegrate FARC members into society and transition members from war-mongering guerrillas to a peaceful political movement. Can that be classified as impunity? President Santos claims that the individuals responsible for violent crimes will receive punishment commensurate with the crimes they committed. That is yet to be seen.

A large percent of the Colombian population seems to be in favor of the deal. However, a point of contentious negotiations that has not been agreed to, has been FARC surrendering its control of drug trafficking in the region. As the United States State Department has illustrated, FARC is responsible for the production and distribution of several tons of cocaine entering the U.S. every year.

The world continues to watch the negotiations and execution of this peace deal. Those who are watching closely, are human rights watch groups and foreign administrations looking to see if this deal amounts to impunity for human rights violations.

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The Migrant Crisis: A Test of European Coherence?

By Alexandra Esmel

Europe is facing one of its largest refugee crisis since the end of the Second Word War. Violent conflicts in the Middle East (mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly from Eritrea, Somalia) have generated the flight of thousands of men, women and children from war zones, persecutions and/or extreme poverty. The impact of these conflicts is ever increasing on the civilian’s side hence, the large number of displaced (forced or voluntary) civilians into foreign countries. The wealth of Europe where most members have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention have made it an attractive choice for these persons looking for a safe place to stay. Whether legal or illegal, for economic or humanitarian reasons, migration towards the EU is nothing new, however the numbers of migrants reaching the EU or dying trying is now too high not to make the news.hhh

The right of free movement of the persons within the Schengen is a sacrosanct element of the European Union and raise the crisis to a supranational level. However, as the crisis escalated, the EU has lacked of steadfastness in comparison with its individual members which in turn led to important disparities in the way the crisis is handled.

Italy was the first member of the EU to respond to the humanitarian crisis of migrants with the Operation Mare Nostrum in 2013. Italy carried out its own rescue and search missions from its borders all the way to the coast of Libya.  The operation was unfortunately discontinued after the Italian request for additional funds to other EU Member States remained unsuccessful. Operation Mare Nostrum was then replaced by the EU Frontex mission which contrary to its predecessor only aims at securing the European borders. In 2015 alone, more than 300, 000 persons in distress illegally reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea in hope of safer and better lives.

Up north, the Western Balkans route (via Turkey; Greece then Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, etc…) is also one the busiest routes to the EU. More importantly, many refugees and economic migrants call upon the services of unscrupulous smugglers who charge them thousands of dollars for a life-threatening trip to their final destination by sea and/or land.

They embark on a very long and very dangerous journey to reach Europe by sea and land, risking everything they have: their lives and that of their families coming along. In August 2015, Austrian authorities made the macabre discovery on a highway of 71 dead corpses of migrants (assumed to be from sub-Saharan Africa) locked in an abandoned truck.  Before that, in 2013, a boat carrying more or less than 500 African migrants sank by the coast of Italy by Lampedusa. An outraging number of 360 persons died and 155 were rescued by the Italian navy. At the time of writing of this article, the humanitarian crisis is intensifying, the UNCHR has called on governments to strengthen rescue operations, provide swift access to asylum procedures for those in need of protection, and offer legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings. The UN Agency also estimated that 3,500 persons died in 2014 as a result of the crisis.

As it has been demonstrated with Operation Mare Nostrum, leaving one country to deal with the influx of migrants in the hope that it will fade away is a mistake (Italy and now Hungary). By law, every non-EU country person must register in the first European country they set foot in to initiate the appropriate immigration status procedure, may it be that of an asylum seeker or of an economic migrant. Hence, the clogging of small countries of entry to the EU such as Slovenia (2 million inhabitants) or Hungary (10 million inhabitants).

Hungary, the first state in the Schengen zone for migrants traveling via the Western Balkans route, just built a fence on its border with Serbia (not in the Schengen zone) to prevent the arrival of migrants into Hungary and thereby the Schengen zone.

Finally, the Hungarian government unilaterally decided in October 2015 to close its border with Croatia (a candidate to the Schengen area) to migrants albeit “just” being countries of transit for migrants who generally wish to settle further west in Germany or France. On the measure, the Hungarian government’s spokesman stated that “The Hungarian government has taken the steps […] to protect the internal European freedoms and the security of the citizens of Hungary and Europe”.

More alarming, Austria which is a member of the Schengen has now moved to erect a physical border with another member of the Schengen zone: Slovenia. Certainly, it is for the purpose of deterring illegal entry into its territory but inherently it interferes with the EU principle of free movement in the Schengen area. The impossibility to reach Hungary will deviate migrants from Hungary to Slovenia and other neighboring states, the same goes with Austria and Slovenia. Changing the route will not solve the challenge that Europe is facing as a political and economic union. 

In April 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to impose mandatory migrants’ quotas on its Members in order to distribute equally the responsibility inherent with the arrival of migrants. The European Commission stated itself that the migration crisis is not an Austrian crisis. This is not an Italian, French, German or a Greek or a Hungarian crisis. This is a European crisis and it requires a collective European response. France and Germany are in favor of the scheme while others oppose it vigorously. Several Balkans states have denoted their opposition to binding quotas, Slovakia is even considering challenging the decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In May 2015, the European Parliament announced the establishment of an emergency mechanism for relocating migrants, a resettlement scheme to take in migrants from countries outside the EU and more funds for securing borders.  Finally, the Balkan summit of 25th October 2015 resulted in a 17-point plan agreement between Europe and the Balkans states. The plan includes a “deal” still under negotiation with Turkey to help with the flux of migrants in exchange of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and financial support. The implementation of the plan will be monitored by the European Commission on a weekly basis notably regarding the management of borders and of the flow of migrant (exchange of information; coordination with Frontex etc…).

Looking at the future, it is important to realize that this debate should also focus on “immigrants-to-be”: persons wishing to establish their residence in the EU for at least 12 months. The bottom line is that many economic migrants and asylum seekers, legal or illegal, are not simply in transit and actually intend to work, put their children to school and/or to stay in the host country for some time. Once they have reached Europe, they still have to fulfill the conditions for residence or work in the host country.

The arrival of migrants coincides not only with important economic difficulties in the EU but also with the recent rise of far-right parties across the continent. As much as the Grexit drama was an important test for Europe as a financial union, the migrants’ crisis might as well be the test for the defined idea of a European solidarity, identity and union.


Posted in 4Guest & Faculty Articles, Alexandra Esmel, DJILP Online, Featured ArticlesComments (0)

demonstrations in syria in 2011

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Preventative Measures Against Horror (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third blog post in a series of three blog posts discussing how the Chemical Weapons Convention prevents the use of chemical weapons through proactive measures by prohibiting both the use of and the preparation to use chemical weapons.  The first blog post described key features of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The second blog post compared the Chemical Weapons Convention to other sources of international law addressing chemical weapons.  This third and final blog post examines recent events in Syrian Arab Republic, as a case study, to illustrate the concepts discussed in the first and second blog posts.


Part III: Chemical Weapons and the Syrian Civil War

War is crushing the Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria”).  The Chemical Weapons Convention (“CWC”) cannot fix the all the problems in Syria, but hopefully it can fix the problem of chemical weapons.[i]  Removing such a destructive force from the arsenal of the government and preventing further use of chemical weapons on civilians would be no small achievement.  This final blog post describes the role of international law in addressing the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  First, this post summarizes the conflict in Syria to date.  Next, it describes the international reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013.  Finally, this post explains the importance of Syria’s adoption of the CWC, and examines potential obstacles from allegations of new chlorine gas attacks in Syria during April 2014.


A. Background on the Syrian Civil War

demonstrations in syria in 2011

Political demonstrations in Syria in 2011 (AFP/Ghetty Images)

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011, when government security forces fired live ammunition at protesters.  The pro-democracy protests started during the “Arab Spring,” with demonstrations against authoritarian law and corruption in the government led by president Bashar al-Assad.  By the end of 2011, a full-fledged civil war raged in Syria.  Generally, government forces are fighting to preserve the current Assad regime, and rebels are fighting to topple the Assad regime.  However, the opposition-rebel forces lack ideological cohesiveness, and “at this point, a revolt against a dictatorship has morphed into a sectarian conflict with diverse international sponsors.”[ii]  Russia and Iran support the government forces.

The rebels have various underwriters and various—sometimes incompatible—goals.  One 2013 report asserted that “the rebels” really consisted of 1,000 sub-groups, but those groups typically align themselves with one of the larger opposition groupsInfighting between rebel groups has fractured the opposition forces.  Many radicalized, non-Syrian, and sectarian motivated, fighters make up the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS”); “al-Sham” refers to Syria, Greater Syria, or the Levant “in the context of global jihad.”   Most news sources describe ISIS as an al-Qaeda affiliate, but ISIS and al-Qaeda may have broken ties.  Reports attribute both sectarian and secular motives to the various homegrown groups of rebel fighters.  The Western-backed, Free Syrian Army (“FSA”) may provide some hope for Syrian stability, but the FSA faces challenges with fighting against al-Assad and against ISIS.  ISIS reportedly murdered an FSA commander last year.  The FSA itself is fractured.  Additionally, the Syrian National Coalition represents opposition interests during non-violent negotiations, such as the failed Geneva peace talks, and recently attempted to gain a seat in the Arab League.

The Syrian civil war includes some sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Alawites and the majority Sunni population.  Sunni Muslims make up 74% of the Syrian population, and the majority of rebel fighters.  Alawites make up just 12% of the Syrian population, but Alawites hold a disproportionate number of positions “in Syria’s security apparatus, government and military leadership” due to the Alawite al-Assad family’s control over Syria for the last forty years.  The Alawi faith shares some theological beliefs and roots with Shi’a Islam, but the Alawites broke from the Shi’ites 1,000 years ago.

Irrespective of the initial or current ideological basis for this war, its costs should not be underestimated.  More than 150,000 people have died, including 51,212 civilians.  Civilians comprise one-third of the casualties in the Syrian civil war.  According to the UNHCR, more than 2.5 million refugees fled Syria.  Humanitarian organizations and journalists accuse both the rebels and the government of various war crimes.[iii]  Some rebels—though most reports attribute this behavior to radicalized groups, such as ISIS—target civilians based on location and on religion.  Human Rights Watch reports that rebels kidnapped and murdered Alawite civilians.  ISIS also targets Christians, and in one city, reportedly charges Christian males seventeen grams of gold to guarantee their safety.  Rebels recently released two Spanish journalists after six months in captivity.

refugee camp in damascus

Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in Jan. 2014
(UNRWA—Getty Images)

The government regularly targets, kidnaps, tortures, and murders civilians.  Government forces kill women, children, and babies in  to intimidate and diminish support for the opposition.  They target airstrikes on civilians by dropping “barrel bombs” from helicopters on neighborhoods that support the rebels.  Barrel bombs—oil drums filled with shrapnel and explosives—are “devastating and indiscriminate weapons.”    More civilians than fighters have died in government airstrikes.  Government forces began blocking injured civilians from medical treatment and snatching the injured from hospital beds immediately after the protests broke out in 2011.[iv]  Government forces also kidnap, torture, and murder doctors who treat those injured within rebel held areas.  Clearly, the use of chemical weapons only represents one horror in this war.


B. International Reaction to Use of Chemical Weapons on Syrian Civilians

The international community’s response to the atrocities occurring in the Syrian civil war is generally divided.  For example, in July 2012, Russia and China vetoed a third United Nations’ (“U.N.”) measure designed to pressure al-Assad with sanctions.  Russia continues to block any measures that could result in military intervention against al-Assad.  Perhaps there is some truth to statements that social media is more useful to Syrians than the U.N. Security Council.

Similarly, the international community responded haphazardly to reports of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians last year.  International law provided no option for preemptive measures to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  As discussed in the first post of this series, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (“OPCW”) investigators could not investigate the chemical weapons capabilities of Syria before it adopted the CWC.  As discussed in the second post of this series, no source of international law—other than the CWC—enables investigation or sanctions against a country for preparing to use chemical weapons.  Thus, until Syria ratified the CWC in 2013, under international law, nothing could be done about the reported chemical weapons stockpile held by the Syrian government since the 1970s.

After allegations of actual use of chemical weapons surfaced in Syria, the applicable international law changed.  International treaty law still provided no solution.  Syria acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1968, but the Geneva Protocol could not protect civilians in Syria’s civil war because—as described in the second blog post of this series—the Geneva Protocol does not apply to non-international conflicts.  However, customary international law prohibits the use of chemical weapons in non-international conflict.  Under the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, established in 1987, the U.N. Secretary-General can initiate investigations into alleged use of chemical weapons.[v]  Thus, the U.N. Secretary-General established theU.N. Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (“U.N. Mission”) on March 21, 2013 in response to reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.[vi]  Upon request of the U.N., both the OPCW and the World Health Organization provided resources to assist the U.N. investigation.  Before the U.N. asked for the OPCW’s help, the OPCW put out this press release, which noted its concern about alleged chemical weapons use in Syria and its availability to the U.N. under the CWC’s terms.  Syria was not a party tothe CWC at that time, but the terms of the CWC require the OPCW to “put its resources at the disposal of the Secretary-General” upon a U.N. request for assistance regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons by a non-party to the CWC.[vii]

The U.N. Mission confirmed five instances of chemical weapons use in Syria in 2013 in the “Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August 2013, [and] on a smaller scale in Jobar on 24 August 2013, Saraqeb on 29 April 2013, Ashrafiah Sahnaya on 25 August 2013 and Khan Al Asal on 19 March 2013.”[viii]  After confirming the use of chemical weapons, the U.N. initially took no position on which side used the weapons.  The final report from the U.N. Mission focused on the scientific proof for each site and the methodology used to confirm chemical weapons use. but other analysts suggested that the forensic evidence in the September 2013 report pointed to the al-Assad government.  However, in a report issued in March of 2014, U.N. investigators attributed at least some of the attacks to the government due to “the nature, quality and quantity of the agents.”

opcw inspectors in syria

OPCW inspectors in Syria (BBC)

On September 14, 2013, following the U.N. Mission’s report, a U.S.-Russian diplomatic intervention produced a chemical weapons disarmament settlement.  As part of the settlement, Syria agreed to adopt the CWC and submit to its extensive verification regime.  Presumably, the Syrian government only agreed to the disarmament to prevent unilateral U.S. military intervention, a distinct possibility before the settlement.  On September 19, 2013, the U.S. and Russia described the plan for Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament in a joint letter to the U.N.; the annex to that letter described the accelerated destruction plan for Syria and the actions the U.S. and Russia would take in the OPCW’s Executive Council to implement the plan.  Within a week, the Security Council unanimously adopted S.C. Resolution 2118, which enacted the plan and required accelerated OPCW action  to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.[ix]

If Syria fails to follow the requirements of the CWC and the OPCW, Resolution 2118 provides a clear path for U.N.-backed intervention.  If the U.N. never acts, as described in the first blog post, the CWC theoretically provides an alternative mechanism for collective action by State Parties for non-compliance with the CWC.


C. The OPCW and the CWC in Syria

The progress since Syria ratified the CWC is promising.  Syria is generally cooperating with the accelerated destruction schedule for its chemical weapons.  A team of U.N. and OPCW specialists is working together in Syria.  On October 24, 2013, Syria submitted formal initial declarations to the OPCW, in compliance with the timeline set by the Executive Council.[i]  The OPCW-U.N. team visited most of the sites declared in the initial declarations that followed Syria’s adoption of the CWC.  The team started destroying those sites with “low tech, quick and cheap” methods, including smashing equipment and filling it in with concrete.  The OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission reported the removal of half of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in March, the removal of 72.3%, as of April 16, 2014, and the removal of 92.5%, as of April 24, 2014.  After months of progress towards the deadline for complete destruction by the end of June, recent reports call into question whether Syria will meet that deadline.

At the time of writing, the Syrian civil war rages on.  As part of the agreement in September, Syria agreed to attend peace talks with the opposition.  Unfortunately, those peace talks failed.  After Syria agreed to the disarmament deal in September 2013, many expressed concern that removing chemical weapons received too much focus.  Unfortunately, as a corollary to al-Assad’s agreeing to chemical weapons disarmament and ratification of the CWC, most serious pressure from the West has stopped.  As part of a plea for help from the West, one Syrian opposition leader said, “Assad has handed over the chemical weapons to save himself.”  France is pushing the Security Council for ICC prosecution of Syrian war crimes, despite the likely Russian veto.  Ban Ki-moon also criticizes the lack of access for aid to 9.3 million civilians.  Hopefully these issues will be addressed after Syria—again, hopefully—meets the upcoming chemical weapons disarmament deadline.


D. Conclusions and Future Concerns

Like any specialized legal system, the CWC cannot solve all the problems in this domestic conflict.  The CWC’s narrow purpose is to prevent the use and the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.  To this end, the OPCW already removed huge amounts of chemical weapons from Syria and destroyed its chemical weapons factories.  The al-Assad government agreed to intrusive OPCW monitoring.  Even if the Syrian civil war continues, the CWC provides strong, but imperfect, protection against one of the worst war atrocities.  The CWC and the OPCW will be tested by recent allegations that chemical weapons attacks occurred in Syria in April 2014.

Unfortunately, both the rebels and the government agree that at least one new chemical weapons attack recently occurred in Syria.  The rebels blame the government and the government blames the rebels for the attack, as initially occurred after the attacks in August 2013.  The rebels reportedly have pictures and a video of suggesting the government attacked a village with chlorine gas.  The government reported on state-run Syrian television that a rebel group called Nusra Front is responsible for the chlorine gas attack.

Harm from chlorine gas varies with the victim’s type of exposure to the choking agent, which was used in World War I.  Chlorine is a chemical with both prohibited and non-prohibited uses under the CWC.  Theoretically, such chemicals must be declared to the OPCW because they are subject to OPCW monitoring.  The OPCW noted that Syria made declarations about production of chemicals for non-prohibited purposes, as required by the CWC.  The OPCW has yet to make a statement about whether Syria identified the production of chlorine in any declarations.

Public statements by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., illustrate the problematic timing of these allegations.  When questioned about the new allegations, Ms. Power noted that the whole purpose of removing the chemical weapons from Syria was “to prevent further use.”  She refused to comment on U.S. reaction, but she casually mentioned “the credible threat of military force [is] on the table.”  After weeks of media reporting on the new attacks, the OPCW issued a press release on April 29, 2014, announcing the formation of a fact-finding team to investigate the new allegations.

The OPCW-U.N. team faces the possible breakdown of the disarmament plan.  The international reaction to these attacks must be carefully considered, to avoid undoing the progress made so far.  Interested observers should watch for statements from the OPCW, regarding their investigation into these attacks, and for any public statements from key players on the Security Council—primarily the U.S. and Russia—that could foreshadow U.N. action under Resolution 2118.  While there are options for military intervention, they will likely be unpopular in the war-weary U.S.  Moreover, eliminating a chemical like chlorine from an entire country seems impossible.  Chlorine poses a huge enforcement issue: can the OPCW rid Syria of a chemical used in homes throughout the world?  Probably not.  Despite the strengths of the CWC and the OPCW, the new attacks diminish the likelihood of complete chemical weapons disarmament in Syria.


Katharine York is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


[i] See Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons, opened for signature Jan. 13, 1993, S. Treaty Doc. No. 103-21, 1974 U.N.T.S. 45 [hereinafter CWC].

[ii] Ibrahim J. Gassama, The Incoherence and Functional Incompetence of International Law: Toward a New Paradigm of Human Relationship, 37 Fordham Int’l L.J. 53, 96-97.

[iii] See generally Human Rights Council, Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (2014) (describing torture and targeting of civilians by both the government and the rebels), available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/OralUpdate18March2014.pdf.

[iv] Amnesty Int’l, Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers 4-6 (2011), available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/mde240592011en_22.pdf.

[v] G.A. Res. 42/37 C, U.N. Doc. A/RES/42/37 C (Nov. 30, 1987).

[vi] UNODA, Fact Sheet: United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (2014), available at https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/UN_Mission-Syria_Jan_2014.pdf.

[vii] CWC, supra note 1, Verification Annex, Part XI, para. 27.

[viii] UNODA, supra note 6.

[ix] S.C. Res. 2118, U.N. Doc. S/RES/2118 (Sept. 27, 2013), available at http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2118%282013%29.

[x] See the first blog post in this series for more information about the initial implementation of the CWC.

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Critical Analysis: Report that alleges systematic killing in Syria released days before the start of the Geneva II peace conference

A report released just days before the scheduled start of the Geneva II peace conference “is a smoking gun,” for a war crime prosecution of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime according to David Crane, one of the report’s authors. Copies of the report, which allege the systematic killing of detainees in Syrian jails, were sent to both CNN and The Guardian. The Guardian noted the release “appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organized Geneva II peace conference.”

Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs. Photograph: Sana/Reuters.

Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs. Photograph: Sana/Reuters.

Evidence in the report comes from a single, unidentified Syrian government defector who shared close to half of the 55,000 images – equating to approximately 11,000 victims – he smuggled on memory sticks out of the war-torn nation. The defector worked as a photographer in the military police, and claims the photos were used to prove execution orders had been carried out, and to allow for death certificates to be provided without the need to show family members the bodies. The death certificates listed the cause of death as a heart attack or breathing problems that occurred in the hospital.

“Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence – the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime’s killing machine,” according to Crane. Activists say an estimated 50,000 detainees are unaccounted for, while tens of thousands of Syrians have been held and released. Released prisoners have shared stories of widespread use of executions and torture.

The gruesome photos include a variety of injuries, including beatings, strangulation and other forms of torture according to the report. A majority of the victims were men, estimated between 20-40 years old. One of report’s authors, Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, told CNN the emaciated bodies were “reminiscent of the pictures of those [who] were found still alive in the Nazi death camps after World War II.”

Representatives from approximately 30 countries are scheduled to attend the Geneva II Conference in an attempt to implement the Geneva Communiqué. The communiqué is intended as a resolution to the civil war in Syria, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced 9.5 million. The two main protagonists in the conflict have irreconcilable objectives: namely the role current President Bashar al-Assad would play in the transitional governing body called for in the communiqué. The force of the talks will also be limited by the absence of several of the largest opposition groups including the Syrian National Council.

Caroline Marfitano is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Syria rebels fire a mortar toward a regime position near Aleppo. (NOW.)

Critical Analysis: Syrian Civil War Threatens to Engulf Neighboring Lebanon

Syria rebels fire a mortar toward a regime position near Aleppo. (NOW.)

Syria rebels fire a mortar toward a regime position near Aleppo. (NOW.)

As the Syrian Civil War rages unabated, the conflict has taken on a distinctly sectarian angle.  Bashar Al-Assad’s forces are now composed mainly from the President’s own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, which sees the fortunes of their minority community as intertwined with those of the regime.  After 2 years of brutal urban warfare, the regime’s forces are stretched to the breaking point.  However, the Alawite forces of President Assad may be receiving an increasing amount of support from their co-religionists of the Shiite Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.

There have been reports since the start of the war in Syria that Hezbollah has been backing the Syrian regime with men and material.  Both Syria and Hezbollah are primary allies of Shi’ite Iran, and receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in financial and military support from the Islamic Republic.  Hezbollah’s support of the Assad regime has made it an enemy of the mainly Sunni Syrian rebel forces, as well as escalated tensions between Sunnis and Syrian regime supporters in neighboring Lebanon.

This tension escalated dramatically this week as Hezbollah forces within Lebanon exchanged sustained fire with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels within Syria.  Hezbollah claims it intervened to protect Shi’ite villages in Syria along the Lebanese border from attacks by the Sunni FSA. The FSA accuses Hezbollah of assisting the Assad regime and threatened to take the fight to Hezbollah in Lebanon if the group did not cease its advance into Syrian territory.  The FSA subsequently claimed to have attacked Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, killing and wounding a number of Hezbollah fighters.

Clashes between Hezbollah and Syrian rebels threatens to internationalize Syria’s already bloody civil war.  Like its larger neighbor Syria, Lebanon contains an explosive mix of Sunni, Shi’ite, Druze and Christians.  The country has yet to fully recover from the devastating 1975-1990 civil war, which pitted the countries religious groups against one another.  Spillover violence from Syria threatens the fragile stability of Lebanon, and could draw in other regional actors, such as Israel, who fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006, which ended in a stalemate.

Urgent international action is needed if the terrible consequences of the Syrian civil war morphing into a regional war are to be avoided.  Rather than attempt to calm the fighting, the international community may have recently decided to increase the flow of weapons, including anti-tank and other heavy weapons, to FSA brigades fighting in the south of the country.   The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 70,000 people in that country, and the probability the death toll will soon include growing numbers of Lebanese increases every day. 

Phillip Khalife is a 3L at Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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People speak on the aircraft steps of a Syrian passenger plane that was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara, Turkey. (USA Today)

Critical Analysis: Syrian Passenger Plane Forced Down by Turkey

People speak on the aircraft steps of a Syrian passenger plane that was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara, Turkey. (USA Today)

Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on October 10.  The plane was suspected of carrying weapons from Russia.  The airliner was traveling from Moscow to Damascus with only thirty-five passengers and two crew members, even though the plane’s maximum capacity is one hundred eighty passengers.  Turkish intelligence had reportedly received information that the Syrian plane could be carrying “non-civilian cargo.” The plane was forced to land and then held at Ankara’s Esenboga airport for several hours before authorities finally allowed it to take off again for Damascus.  In conjunction with the forced take down, Turkey declared Syria’s airspace unsafe and ordered its civilian planes to avoid it.

Turkish authorities have declined to announce what they found on the Syrian airliner.  However, reports have surfaced that parts of a missile were confiscated along with materials that should have been reported, but were not, before the flight.  Other reports have surfaced that the Turkish government seized ten containers on board that held radio receivers, antennas, and other equipment “thought to be missile parts.” The forced take-down comes amid growing tensions between the two neighboring countries as reports from the border reveal there has been Syrian mortar and machine-gun fire heard on the Turkish side of the border.  While it is unclear whether the firing from Syria was aimed at Turkey or errant Syrian rebel-government fire, the audible firing has heightened tensions on the border. Tensions have grown with Syria’s bordering neighbors since the Syrian civil war began nineteen months ago. Turkey, specifically, has been a safe haven for roughly 100,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom crossed the Orontes River, which separates Turkey from Syria.

In response to the forced take down, Syria has alleged its continued innocence, calling Turkey’s actions piracy and claiming that nothing illegal was onboard.  The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency called Turkey’s actions “contrary to regulations and aviation norms.”  Russia has also been outspoken about its concern for the seventeen Russian passengers onboard. Reportedly, they were not allowed off the plane and denied medical treatment and food for eight hours, and Russia is demanding a reason for Turkey’s treatment of them.  The Moscow airport also denied that there was any prohibited cargo on the Syrian plane.  Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova stated that “[n]o objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board.”  All documentation concerning that cargo was also in order and completed as necessary.

Turkey’s action plays a role in the much larger foreign relations with the Middle East and Russia.  Currently, Russia is one of Syria’s closest remaining allies and, along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. resolutions against the Syrian capital.  The Syrian civil war continues to grow as battles have spilled over into the neighboring counties of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  NATO has said that it would also get involved if Syria strikes because Turkey is a member of the organization.  NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that there are plans in place to defend Turkey militarily if such a situation arises.

As more countries begin to take actions against the Syrian government, it will be forced to acquiesce to global pressure and end its violence against the rebels.  The death toll in the Syrian civil war has reached upwards of 20,000 even as global sanctions continue to pour on Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.  Turkey is only the latest country to take action against Syria and, certainly, will not be the last.  If Syria continues to ignore global pressure to end its violence, then military action from outside its borders may be the only resolution to end the internal violence within Syria.

 Dan Warhola is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Executive Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Sources: LA Times, BBC, NY Times

News Post: The Escalating Three-Way Power Struggle in Yemen

Sources: NY Times, BBC, LA Times

Sources: NY Times, BBC, LA Times

For the past eight months, protestors have managed to maintain peace in their uprising against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but the President has managed to retain power in Yemen.  The peace ended this week as the power struggle between President Saleh, Major General Ali Mohsin Saleh Ahmar and escalated to a violent attack on the protestors resulting in many deaths and injuries. As the violence escalates in Yemen, prospects for a peaceful transfer of power dwindle and fears of a civil war escalate.

It is most likely that President Saleh will not resign now, and even if he does, his sons will be in key positions to carry on the Saleh reign.  President Saleh has refused to resign for several months now, despite international and local pressure. At one point, President Saleh had the support of Western nations, including the United States, because of his resistance to Al-Quada.  However, as the conflict within Yemen grew worse, the Western nations withdrew their support.  Even Saudia Arabia, where President Saleh is currently recovering, is pressuring him to resign.  The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) tried to work out an agreement for President Saleh to resign. President Saleh manifested a commitment to such an agreement, but ultimately refused to sign it.  This is most likely because President Saleh is unwilling to relinquish the power of his sons along with his own, especially if the agreement does not call for the relinquishment of the power of his opponent’s, Ahmar’s, sons.

Most recently, President Saleh issued a decree, which granted Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi the power to make an agreement for a transfer of power.  However, this is most likely another strategy to delay any transfer of power with no intent to sign on President Saleh’s part.  Mohammed Qahtan, leading member of the Joint Meetings Party (JMP), calls any further negotiation a waste of time because the revolution will continue no matter what and protestors will accept only President Saleh’s resignation.  Jamila Raja, former Yemen official and advisor to the Foreign Ministry, thinks the chances of reaching a transfer of power agreement are slim at this point. Mustapha Noman, Yemen ambassador, believes the violence was a deliberate attempt to destroy any plans and sabotage any attempts for a peaceful transfer of power.

However, Yemeni political analyst, Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, believes this decree holds more water than that. He says that President Saleh’s act of divesting legal authority in the Vice President is substantial progress because this allows Vice President Hadi to act as Yemen’s representative and decide what is in the best interests of Yemen.  Most importantly, he says, this shows that President Saleh is finally letting go after holding on for so long.

If President Saleh refuses to resign, this could lead to a civil war.  But there is also the possibility that the situation could worsen if he resigns.  After all, there may not a better suited leader at this time; it was President Saleh who resisted Al-Quada’s presence in Yemen.  With the uncertainty of Yemen’s future, Al-Quada’s future in Yemen is also uncertain.  In order to avoid a civil war, all parties must be willing to engage in discourse in order to reach a political solution.  This seems unlikely considering each party has its own agenda that, undoubtedly, conflicts with that of the others.

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