The tragedy of Syria serves as an object lesson for the persistent failure of international law.
As hundreds of thousands have been killed, injured or displaced, as the country lies in ruins, the United Nations has once again been exposed as unable to fulfill its stated mandate to protect the sovereignty of independent nations.
The situation in Syria is one of extensive covert and overt foreign intervention with the horrifying results of death, ethnic cleansing, and the systematic destruction of a country which, prior to the intervention, was stable and prosperous – even thriving. Such was a country seeking to open itself up to the international community, becoming a preferred destination of foreign investment and tourism.
It is not that there have been no voices, however, raised in protest against the violation of Syria’s sovereignty and the questionable activities which have been orchestrated to create its on-going descent into the maelstrom of suffering and destruction.
Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov have contended from the beginning that the covert support by the Obama administration and its allies in the Gulf of so-called “moderate rebels” was a clear violation of international law.
Yet, as with the myriad and arguably illegal interventions by the United States, beginning shortly after the formation of the United Nations, international law has remained impotent as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has remained inexorably divided, and thus, paralyzed to undertake its stated responsibilities.
Such division and paralysis, however, has not ruled the day in every situation – only in situations in which a conflict reflected a division between the five permanent members (P-5) of the UNSC. To this extent, the application of binding international law has had little impediment when it has come to African leaders, who have disproportionately found themselves made subject to binding resolutions of international law.
Indeed, the United Nations Charter – as was its intention from the beginning – is not the actual law of international relations as was the case with the articles of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Charter remains, for the most part, an aspirational document in which resolutions may only have binding validity as actual international law if they are supported and enforced by the UNSC.
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