Thursday, 22 August 2013

Syria's Halabja?

People who expect that the chemical weapons attack near Damascus this week will prompt international intervention to protect civilians are likely to be disappointed. The international community normally prioritises the rights of states, no matter how despicable, over the rights of individuals "to life, liberty and security of person", as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The genocides of Bosnia, Darfur and Rwanda are cases in point, the latter of which showing that there is no upper limit of civilian deaths that will prompt intervention.

History also shows that the use of chemical weapons is insufficient to prompt meaningful action. In 1988, Saddam Hussein murdered 5,000 Kurds at Halabja using weapons of mass destruction. The international community initially ignored the evidence and any action to protect the Kurds, however welcome, was ultimately the by-product of interventions justified on grounds other than humanitarian intervention. At the 25th anniversary commemorations in Halabja, which I attended, the words "never again" were uttered, as they have been repeatedly throughout history. Yesterday's appalling chemical weapons attack near Damascus must prompt action, so that these words are finally given the power they deserve.

My writing about intervention, including about Syria, for various publications/blogs can be read here.

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