Posted in International Law

Chemical Attacks on Syria: a blot on Principles of International Law

‘To really change the world we have to change the way people see the world.’

The United Nations, as well as the International Committee of Red Cross, has sincerely initiated efforts to achieve international peace and global security. And success lies in the fact that today there are no conventional wars which devastated masses of lives.

However, the Gulf Crisis, War between Iran and Iraq, Palestine- Israel issue as well as Syrian Gulf War are incidences which throw light on circumstances where humanitarian grounds are actually criticized and international humanitarian law has failed to establish peace. Syrian Civil War is one amongst those armed conflicts which have actually ruined the peace of civilians. Moreover, lethal chemical weapon attacks are a blot, portraying the failure of international law.

Critical Analysis of Chemical Attacks in Syria: A Grave Threat to Human Rights

The recent chemical attacks by the USA on Bassad’s territory under the shelter of humanitarian intervention have actually brought severe criticisms in the international community. This is because the stand taken by the Trump government in support with the UK, France was without the permission of the UNSC and hence these attacks were termed as illegal. In the further pages, there will be a discussion on various international norms which are actually infringed by such stands by countries.

  • Jus ad bellum and jus in bello

The purpose of international humanitarian law is to limit the suffering caused by war by protecting and assisting its victims as far as possible. The law, therefore, addresses the reality of a conflict without considering the reasons for or legality of resorting to force. It regulates only those aspects of the conflict which are of humanitarian concern. It is what is known as jus in bello (law in war). Its provisions apply to the warring parties irrespective of the reasons for the conflict and whether or not the cause upheld by either party is just. Till 2015, the Syrian crisis were not termed as a humanitarian crisis and there was no step taken to rehabilitate or fight for justice of victims.

Moreover, the strikes did not fall within the exceptions to the overall prohibition on the use of force in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter.  This is because Syria did not consent to the use of force on its territory; the strikes were not authorized by the UN Security Council; Syria’s alleged repeated use of chemical weapons on its own population did not constitute an armed attack that would trigger a right to self-defence for any of the three countries who carried out the strikes. Furthermore, to the extent the strikes should be perceived as a countermeasure in response to Syria’s unlawful use of prohibited weapons, and thus its violation of international law and it must be noted that armed countermeasures are prohibited under the jus ad bellum.

Thus, chemical weapons conflict with the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) principle of distinction that requires parties to a conflict not to use weapons that cannot distinguish between military and civilian objectives.  In the seminal Tadíc case, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) used chemical weapons as an example of a weapon that is inherently inhumane[1].

  • Principle of Distinction

The principle of distinction specifies that combatants must distinguish themselves from civilians. As a result, combatants must neither deliberately target nor indiscriminately or disproportionally harm civilians. The definition of who falls within the categories of combatants or civilians is therefore of crucial importance in IHL. The concept of “civilian” is “defined in contra-distinction to combatants: civilians are those who are not combatants”. In essence, whoever does not fulfil the criteria of a combatant is considered as a civilian. However, the recent attack by the USA violates the principle of distinction because chemical weapon attack did not just devasted the peace of the Syrian government but also took the lives of many innocent civilians.


A right to use force to deter the use of chemical weapons would only emerge in customary international law if there is a supportive general practice among states that is accepted as legally relevant (opinio juris). However, not all countries support this hence it is very difficult, at least now, to convert this practice as customary international law. Hence, the chemical attacks by the three governments are unlawful.

ICRC and UN: Hegemony of Big Powers

Although the main aim is peace, still the two organizations have at various times have been in conflict. This is because humanitarian laws and norms have at various times manipulated by UNSC. Although this report has never come out, their conflict is visible in their working. This is because UN is sometimes hegemony of big powers. The greatest example to the argument is US intervention in Iraq and even in Syrian civil war also. So, through these instances, the existence of relevance of laws comes to question – because justice needs to be equal for all.

Missile Strikes: Humanitarian Measures or Brutal Attack on Human Rights

The United Nations is established for ensuring peace and stability at the international level. However, the veto powers to the P5 nations is not always used to fulfil the objective of UN. This is evident from the recent Syrian issue. This is because whenever UNSC tries to take stand against Syrian government it is vetoed by Russia.  Recently UNSC 2554 RESOLUTION which urges all members to ceasefire has been revoked by Russia and Turkey and hence the problem continues.

This intervention was illegitimate because it was devoid of permission of UNSC. Using force for humanitarian purposes in the absence of UN authorization will be compatible with international law if ‘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’; ‘it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved’; and ‘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[2]. But the Missile strike aimed at curbing the atrocities in Syria didn’t do much good instead it was a brutal attack on human rights.

Conclusion and Suggestions


It has become the obligation of the states to revive the international humanitarian law. Through diplomatic, economic, and political activities, states can push the parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law and end the targeting of innocent Syrian civilians. Nationwide condemn to states involved in violence and economic blockades can pave a way to deter unlawful force internationally. The time has come when Syrian insurgencies and violence be termed crime against humanity and invoke universal jurisdiction in the matter because justice delayed is justice denied.

[1]  Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, IT-94-1 (2 October 1995), paras. 120-124.).

[2] International Humanitarian Law Sri Lanka Journal of International Law, Vol. 15, pp. 3-6.


Divyanshi Shrivastava

20190118_223126 (1)

Divyanshi Shrivastava is a second-year student of MNLU Nagpur. She has attended various national and international conferences on law and society. Recently she has been adjudged as the best speaker in a reputed conference. She loves reading and writing. She considers law as a tool to empowerment.


Posted in International Law, International Trade Law

International Trade Laws: Inception and its significance ever since

In ancient period, the International Law was governed by ‘inter-racial’ relationships in all communities. Different communities governed by different religions decided to abide by certain general principles of law which would be acceptable by all on the grounds of humanity and which would lead the society into good code of conduct for the treatment of diplomatic envoys, declaration and termination of war, regulation of welfare within and outside of one’s nationality, the conclusion of treaties, and related matters connected with international relations.

The term ‘International Law’ was first coined by Jeremy Bentham in 1780. It means ‘law of nations’ which corresponds to French and German equivalents ‘Droit International’ or ‘Droit des genes‘; ‘Internationales Recht’ or ‘volkerecht’ respectively. As defined by Sir Cecil Hurst, “International Law is the aggregate of rules which determines the rights which one State is entitled to claim on behalf of itself, or its nationals against another State.”

In the period of globalization and modernization, no country can imagine to operate or survive on their own. Every country has to depend on other countries for the import or export of raw materials and other essential goods for the proper development of its economy. In the primitive times, it was the barter system which helped people of different trades to survive. Now, in the modern times, it has been upgraded with more sophisticated, dignified, and reliable method of the binding written conventional rules aided by different countries for the sole aim of a good code of conduct.

The developing countries generally export raw materials to the developed countries and are dependent on them for their finished goods. International trade is vital for the economic development of the country, raising the living standards of the people and strengthening the position of the country in the international sphere. International trade laws have mainly three objectives:

  • Attainment of foreign policy objectives
  • To increase country’s capabilities
  • To create spheres of influence.

The two controlling holder of international trade laws are:

  • The GATT, 1947 (The General Agreement on Tariff and Trade, 1947)
  • The World Trade Organisation

The GATT – The convention of GATT requires that any proposed change in the tariff or any other policy, of a member country, should not be undertaken without the consent of other member parties to the agreement and all the member countries should have a common goal to reduce the tariffs and other barriers of the international trade, which should be negotiated within the framework of GATT. The Preamble of the GATT mentions four following objectives:

1) raising the standard of living

2) utilization of the resources of the world

3) ensuring full employment and steady growing full volume of real income and effective demand

4) expansion of production and international trade

The World Trade Organisation – The WTO shall facilitate the implementation, administration of the objectives of the Multilateral Trade Agreements and it shall also provide the forum for negotiations among its members concerning their multilateral trade relations in matters dealt with under the agreement of GATT. It shall also administer the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM). It also administers the rules and procedures regarding the rules and procedures of settling disputes between the member countries. Some of the agreements are mentioned below:

US – India Strategic Partnership

1) A historic agreement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation – it addresses India’s surging energy needs for its growing economy.

2) Economy – US – India cooperation to enhance job creation and economic growth, support economic reform and liberalization, develop a bilateral business climate supportive of trade and investment and improve market access for goods and services.

India – EU Relationship

1) Develop and preserve a dynamic agricultural sector

2) High-Level Trade Group to study their bilateral trade and investment relationship.

3) Exchange information and initiate a dialogue on regulatory policy including Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) and domestic regulations and market access issues related to services.

4) Joint Working Group on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs).

The developments that international trade law has gained over years of coming into action are:

  • Cooperation among countries – Countries now cooperate with each other through bilateral agreements, treaties and international organisations. It encourages to take a mutual decision for the benefit of not only one country, but also of various other countries.
  • Growth in emerging markets – Developing countries like India, South America and other parts of Asia have increased their trade potential globally. With such developments, international trade holds a significant position nowadays.
  • Dynamic approach – Developments in science and information technology has upgraded the way international trades or business has been carried out over the years.
  • Liberty to transport goods and services internationally – Producers have become more efficient by competing against foreign companies. Though governments have imposed various restrictions on such cross-border movements, it is for the advantage and benefit of such companies.
  • Importing scarce resources – International trade can help a country to import any such scarce resources which are abundant in other countries.

The effectiveness with which international trade can be used as an instrument at an international level solely depends upon a country’s economic development and political scenario. It increases real incomes and consumption which eventually leads to curtail unemployment and foster economic growth.

International trade law has made a fair contribution to the south in the 19th and 20th centuries and in the 21st century it is an integral part of the globalized world and has contributed tremendously over the years, and has given its own share of prosperity.




Somanka is a fifth-year law student pursuing BA LLB in Calcutta University. She’s also pursuing a diploma course in Entrepreneurship and Business Laws. After interning in various law firms in Calcutta High Court and gaining experiences about the practicalities of legal practice, she’s now keen to test her theories. An enthusiast and diligent worker, she’s also a good researcher and writer.

Posted in International Law

Path from Immigrant to Refugee

This article has been written by Ishaan Garg. Ishaan is a first-year law student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIP University, Delhi.

The International law as we know of it is a soft law. The binding force behind all treaties, pacts and conventions adopted is ‘common consensus’. It is the consent of the member states that provide a backbone to principles of International Law. However, being a weak and a soft branch of law, international law is non-coercive in nature. Hence, it is up to the member states to decide whether or not to abide by such principles on the cost of their Sovereignty and National Security. This is what has exactly happened in Europe. The ongoing crisis has led to migrations on an extremely high level that it is becoming difficult for Europe to bear such a burden. Hence, the European Union has been unsuccessful in maintaining a balance between obeying to the principle of non-refoulement and protecting their National security.

Hence, they have adopted non-entree measures so as to put a hold on the inflow of refugees and asylum seekers. However, the substantial question at this very stage is whether they can be justified in doing so. In such a situation where the people of the world who have been victims, be it of terrorism spread by ISIS or the Syrian civil war, they need a helping hand from Europe which now seems to have withdrawn itself. The two major policy changes that Europe has adopted is the suspension of Schengen Agreement and the amendment to Dublin Regulation as discussed earlier. Europe has declared this to the world that it shall not provide refuge to the immigrants by compromising with the Security of the State. Can Europe be blamed for putting their State Security at a higher level than obeying the principle of nonrefoulement? The mass displacement of people and large scale immigrations have disclosed the loopholes and revealed the flaws of the principle of nonrefoulement. The outcome which was expected by establishing this principle could not be achieved as it was intended.

The principle of nonrefoulement is one of the most fundamental right of the international refugee law. Still, after expressly recognising the principle in various international instruments and discussing its necessity at global platform, complete adherence to non- refoulement seems nothing more than a dream. The ground reality is that non-refoulement is just a principle good for books. It has failed the test of time so much so that the intention with which it was established could not be fulfilled. Displacement of people has taken place at such a high level that it has become difficult for the nations to bear such a burden. It is agreed that nations have violated the principle of non-refoulement, but, there is still a reasonable explanation to that. By saying this, it does not mean that every nation has fulfilled its role and obliged to the principle of non-refoulement. There have been occurrences when the refugees were subjected to brutality and insensitivity. Nations like Sudan and Sweden have expelled the asylum seekers back to the places where they came from. This was absolutely illegal. But, there is a difference between the act of subjecting refugees to brutality and the omission to provide asylum to the people. Many nations like France, Austria, Germany etc., have started closing doors for asylum seekers. There is a reason behind such a move. It has been claimed by Europe that most of the Asylum seekers are economic migrants and not the ones who have been forced to flee because of the horrors of the war. They are persons mostly from North Africa and of Moroccan or Tunisian origin who have travelled to Europe only due to economic reasons. The high level of immigrations also holds a potential threat to the security of the entire European Union. Before providing shelter and asylums to the refugees it should also be ensured that the people who need it are genuine and pose no threat to the security of the state. The European Union had to confront all the allegations and criticisms that were made as soon as it started showing a cold response to the claims of asylum seekers. However, the continuous immigrations pushed the nations to prioritise their National Security over the obligation of International Law. If this is the situation, then it can be suggested that Europe may have an understandable reason of not fulfilling the claims of asylum seekers. Thus, approaches of non-entree were adopted to keep the refugees well of their boundaries without formally disobeying treaty obligations. The irregular migrations have exposed the faults in the International principle of Non-Refoulement as well. The drafters of this principle could not anticipate that it might suffer from any flaws in the long run as no limit was prescribed with regard to its applicability.

Posted in International Law

International Law according to Positivists

This article has been written by Ritika Bhasin. Ritika is currently a fourth-year student in National Law University, Delhi.

The Positivist theory holds that the power to lay down the law vested only with the state or the political superior. In the absence of any political superior or sovereign above the states, it became difficult for them to accept ‘international law’ as ‘law’.[1] According to them, “international law flows from the express or the tacit consent of states”.[2]

John Austin defined law as “the command of a sovereign over his subjects which creates an obligation on their part to obey the command”.[3] Applying the command theory, he concluded that both constitutional law and international law did not constitute ‘law’ in the strict sense of the term, but were merely ‘positive morality’.[4] In the absence of sovereign coercion, the duties imposed by international law could be enforced only by moral sanctions like the fear of invoking general hostility, public opinion of other nations and societal conventions.[5]

Austin focussed on only one element of law and failed to look beyond its ‘author’ and ‘form’.[6] He excluded all other elements of law which are equally important to be included within the definition of law[7]. Law needs to be understood as a system of both rights and duties that regulates the behaviour of not just the subjects but also the one formulating them.[8] His theory on law comes out to be narrow and arbitrary as he neglected the significance of ethical sanctions (customs) in the enforcement of law.[9] In order to be effective, sanctions need to be certain and serious irrespective of whether they form part of a top-down model or not.[10]

Jeremy Bentham believed that moral sanctions might be sufficient to ensure obedience to a law, although they did not possess similar efficacy as political sanctions.[11] He recognised it as a “primitive system of law”.[12] He defined international law as the law which related to “the mutual transactions between sovereigns as such“.[13]

Like Austin, Bentham too did not look beyond the elements of ‘command’ and ‘sanctions’ in law. It was only when he moulded his command theory to suit the international conditions that he was able to see international law as more than mere morality. However, the deficiency of his theory is brought about by the fact that he perceived international law as only a collection of rules that govern states and their correspondence. He left other elements like the processes and structures for the enforcement of such rules out of the ambit of law.

H.L.A. Hart too recognised international law as “a primitive form of law”.[14] He had a much broader understanding of law, which consisted of ‘primary rules’ that impose duties and ‘secondary rules’ that allocate power.[15] According to him, international law was a union of only primary rules.[16] It lacked all the three secondary rules.[17]

There have been some major changes in the international sphere since the time Hart propounded his theory. The United Nations was established in 1945 with the objective of maintaining international peace and security[18] and sought to initiate the process of codification of international law.[19] An adjudicatory authority in the form of the International Court of Justice has been established.[20] The sources of international law have been listed under Article 38.1 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice as “treaties, international customs and general principles, giving globally accepted standards of behaviour, judicial decisions and scholarly writings[21]. This would very well constitute the rule of recognition as required by Hart. A couple of other adjudicatory bodies (tribunals) like the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights have also been established.[22] Hart’s understanding of international law in the present times might have been quite different. He might have given international law the status of law in the presence of a potential rule of recognition and rules of adjudication.

The top-down approach as adopted by the Positivists ensues to be a major hindrance in recognising international law as law. There need not necessarily be a vertical relationship between the author of rules and those governed by them. The merit of laws has to be judged in terms of their characteristics and the effect that they have on governing the behaviour of individuals in society.[23]

Another factor that prevents them from seeing international law as law is their belief that morality does not form part of law. The significance of normative values in ensuring conformity to international norms cannot be undermined.[24] They failed to see value judgments as part of law irrespective of the fact that even judges engaged in law-making while dealing with the ideological and ethical content of the disputes that they sought to resolve.[25]

Also, customs were not a source of law according to Positivists.[26] In the international sphere, customs form a major source of law. Rules and norms are an outcome of long usage and thus, states are forced to abide by them out of necessity in their own interests.[27]

Another deficiency in the Positivist theory on international law is that they consider only states as subjects of international law and not individuals. They neglected that international law also includes individual rights and obligations.[28]

There have been numerous developments after the Positivist theories on international law were advocated.[29] It is possible that Positivists would have had quite a different understanding of international law in the present day and age.

[1] John H. Crabb, ‘An Introduction to some International Law Concepts’ (1961) 37 N.D. L. Rev.

[2] P.E. Corbett, ‘The Consent of States and the Sources of the Law of Nations’ (1925) 6 Brit. Y.B. Int’l L.

[3] J Austin, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (John Murray 1861).

[4] L. OPPENHEIM, ‘The Future Of International Law’ (1918) 6 Cal. L. Rev.

[5] Harold Hongju Koh and others, ‘Why Do Nations Obey International Law?’ (1997) 106 The Yale Law Journal.

[6] John Murray, ‘Austin on Jurisprudence’ (1861) 8 The Crayon.

[7] T. J. Lawrence, ‘The Nature of International Law’ (1895) 10 The Principles of International Law.

[8] E. C. Clark, ‘Practical Jurisprudence, A Comment On Austin’ (1883) 1 Cambridge University Press.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Cheryl Toner, ‘Bentham’s Completion of International Law’ [1994] UCL Jurisprudence Rev.

[12] Jeremy Bentham ‘A General View Of A Complete Code Of Laws’in ‘The Works Of Jeremy Bentham’, ed. John Bowring, (1843) vol. iii, p 187

[13] Richard Ashcraft and Jeremy Bentham, ‘An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation’ (1971) 65 The American Political Science Review.

[14] H. L. A Hart, The Concept Of Law (Clarendon Press 1961).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Emily Kadens and Ernest A. Young, ‘How Customary is Customary International Law?’ (2012) 54 Wm. & Mary L. Rev.

[18] Charter of the United Nations 1945, Chapter I, Article 1

[19]Charter of the United Nations 1945, Chapter IV, Article 13

[20] Charter of the United Nations 1945, Chapter XIV

[21]The Statue of the International Court of Justice, Article 38.1

[22] Gary Born, ‘A New Generation of International Adjudication’ (2012) 61 Duke Law Journal.

[23]Dennis Lloyd Lloyd of Hampstead, The Idea of Law (Penguin Books 1976).

[24] Supra note 5

[25] F. S. C. Northrop, ‘Contemporary Jurisprudence and International Law’ (1952) 61 The Yale Law Journal.

[26] Anthony D Amato, ‘Is International Law Really “Law”?’ [1985] Nw. U. L. Rev.

[27] W. R. Bisschop, ‘Sources of International Law’ (1940) 26 Transactions Grotius Soc’y.

[28] Mark Weston Janis, ‘Individuals as Subjects of International Law’ SSRN Electronic Journal.

[29] H. Lauterpacht, ‘Codification and Development of International Law’ (1955) 49 The American Journal of International Law.