Geneva (III), politicking and possibility for Syria’s invisible 43%

Updated and revised version of the original, cross-posted courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (February 17, 2016). 

2015 faded into the new year with a glimmer of hope for the people of Syria. A hope propelled by renewed international engagement, as expressed within the Vienna Statements of October 30, 2015 and November 14, 2015 — and underwritten by Security Council Resolution 2254.  Two years since the dissolution of Geneva II, the UN Special Envoy for Syria reconvened formal negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition for January 25, 2016. In the face of continuing egregious violations of international humanitarian law, the proximity talks began a week late and were suspended — three days later.

Neither this, the time gap since Geneva II, nor the escalation of the conflict are unusual: peace trajectories recurrently stall, fracture and reconfigure, sometimes escalating and de-escalating over decades. More unusual is the form and intensity of that escalation: the ever increasing parties to the (increasingly internationalised) non-international armed conflict  and the layers of international lawlessness — the exponential rise in international crimes layer on the violations of international human rights law that sparked the protests and internal disturbances of March 2011. Continue reading

(Part II) Converging law, equivocation and delimits on the supposed inviolability of spaces of learning


CAR Along Religious Lines

Picture Courtesy of Marcus Bleasdale.


As opined in the first part of this posting, an international humanitarian obligation to respect and ensure respect for the civilian character of spaces of learning may be inferred from existing treaty and customary law. However the precise point of delimitation remained unanswered: when, if at all, may the space be lawfully transformed by, for example, military use? Of course determining this, the scope, demands probing the equipoise—the interrelations between the principles of military necessity and limitation—more deeply.

Yet to an extent, this too may be determined from treaty and customary law. Indeed military necessity itself extends the inviolability (or protection) of the space, in so far as it prohibits military acts if not militarily necessary. Thus there is minimally an obligation to refrain, from transforming learning spaces from civilian objects to military objectives, unless required by military necessity. And, in light of the multiple sources of international humanitarian rules from which the obligation may be inferred, there is reason to argue, the obligation is particularly restrictive; that is, it forms a prohibition on such transformation ‘unless imperatively required by military necessity’, on a par with the customary rule limiting the use of cultural property for military purposes, if not the more restrictive treaty rule. To this, there is another delimiter: humanitarian rules limiting the (vulnerability creating) effects of non/international armed conflict, both those basic and specific express rules of treaty and customary law, and the principles of precaution and proportionality applied as general principles of international humanitarian law. Indeed, and here the opinion becomes more precarious, in light of the multidimensional hurt and harm that may follow the use of learning spaces by armed forces/groups, it may be opined, such use is (or should be) presumed to be unlawful—disproportionate or excessive in relation to the military contribution and advantage sought. Continue reading

(Part I) Converging law, equivocation and delimits on the supposed inviolability of spaces of learning

CAR Along Religious Lines

Picture Courtesy of Marcus Bleasdale.


Chibok. Rafah. Peshawar. Garassa. Donetsk. Aleppo. Sana’a.

The recent violations of spaces (of lower and higher) learning have evoked near universal condemnation. Held there are ‘the dictates of public conscience’. Undergirding, if not sparking, this collective sense of injustice is a supposition: the spaces of learning are supposedly inviolable from attacks /acts of violence. From this, a supposition of law might follow: ipso facto the spaces are protected as inviolable as a matter of international law.  But is this so?

Of course, the multifarious spaces of learning, as holders of embodied subjects of rights, principally learners, and their rights to, in and through education, are necessarily accorded protection under international human rights law. The concomitant duo dimensional obligation to protect the embodied rights holder within the space from acts of violence, and the space as a safe space of learning continues within the converging contexts of emergencies, threats to international and peace and security and non/international armed conflicts. Indeed the latter triggers international humanitarian law—and the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants and civilian objects and military objectives, or in other words the humanitarian obligation to refrain from attacking learning spaces as civilian objects, and embodied persons in relation to the space, as civilians. The international legal protection, then, may be viewed as doubling itself: the human rights and humanitarian obligations are—complementary and mutually reinforcing. Of course, either way the—supposed—inviolability of the space is a partial international legal actuality; under both bodies of law the space may be lawfully delimited.  Continue reading

Converging law, Security Council resolutions and (un)intended international legal effects

As opined elsewhere,* international human rights law may be viewed as the juristic holder of our ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. And, as such, it transcends time and space; it continues to be seized, shaped and expressed by those made vulnerable. However it is also in flux: its legal expression is partial and ‘embodied vulnerability’ itself is fluid. Consider treaty law: layered beneath the content and framing of substantive treaty provisions is the treaty making process; constructive ambiguity may be co-opted as a tool to promote agreement; notable absences may signify an agreement shortfall—or alternatively unexpressed or as yet unfelt/imagined vulnerability. Viewed in this way, the imperative of deepening the connection between ‘embodied vulnerability’ and its legal expression is ongoing. And this is evidenced by the adoption of multiple thematic human rights treaties in the past quarter of a century. However, two conflicting dynamics undergird the prima facie certainty of the law: the ever present forces of progression and regression. The Security Council is an extraordinary source of those forces; and the thematic resolutions on children a particular expression of their sometimes progressive, other times regressive effects.

This, the Council’s law effecting potentiality, is heightened by a confluence of legal dynamics flowing from its primary responsibility. These flow principally from the depths of the relations between that responsibility and egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law: the latter may, after all, if not provoke, exacerbate, threats to international peace and security. Thus the Council increasingly, if non-consistently, seizes its discretion to escalate conduced compliance with applicable international legal obligations, as exemplified by the aforementioned thematic resolutions. In so engaging, the Council necessarily interprets and expresses applicable international law ‘in’ and ‘through’ its resolutions including international law relating to children. However international legal equivocation frames the extent to which it is bound within its decision-making processes by broader international law, beyond the Charter of its birth. Yet these resolutions if not legal acts have legal effects: the resolutions (or selected provisions thereof) may inform subsequent practice (by guiding the interpretation and implementation of applicable treaty law) or be cited, themselves, as evidence of subsequent practice.

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Converging law, (un)intended vulnerability and international peace and security

The Security Council may be viewed as the juristic holder of ‘international peace and security’. Yet this is largely undefined in the Charter of its birth. And so too is its relationship with broader international law. Legal arguments abound: some view the Council unbound; others view it bound with discretion to depart for its primary responsibility (and of course there is a spectrum in between). In the search for certainty, international legal equivocation rules. Ipso facto, the Council is a holder of extraordinary power. Yet threats to international peace and security often have a legal expression—egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights, some of which may be international crimes. Thus viewed, undergirding the Council’s engagement is a shift from ordinary to extraordinary ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm. And it, therefore, may be supposed retracting these vulnerability shifts—by conducing compliance with applicable international legal obligations—lies at the core of its decision-making about maintaining international peace and security. And increasingly, if non-consistently, the Council so acts. It, then, is an extraordinary expression of the omnipresent interrelations between power and ‘embodied vulnerability’ to hurt and harm—and its thematic resolutions on children a particular embodiment of those same interrelations.

Prima facie, they are expressive of a rights-protecting relationship. In seizing itself of the subject the Council frames serious violations of international law relating to children as threats to international peace and security. And thereby connects conducing compliance–with those same international legal obligations–to its primary responsibility. Thus the engagement itself may be viewed as a vital dignifying act: the repeated condemnations of serious violations of international law connect ‘embodied vulnerability’ to its international legal expression—and, in doing so, the law itself is reaffirmed and safeguarded. And, so too, are its multifarious acts to conduce compliance: its sui generis monitoring and reporting mechanism and repeated reiterations of its readiness to consider targeted and graduated measures for non-compliance. Through these resolutions the Council, therefore, may escalate conduced compliance, as exemplified by the actions plans prepared by listed parties.

Probe more deeply and there is an underside. The resolutions are premised on a double tiered prioritisation: the designation of six violations of international law as grave and the prioritisation of five over time* within its monitoring and reporting mechanism. Thus the protective effects are partial: focused on discrete dimensions of the law and therefore discrete rights-holders and violators of international legal obligations. Therein lies three points of potential (un)intended vulnerability. In so acting, the Council engages in a form of meta-bargaining about rights. Needless to state this creates the risk of politically infused rights prioritisations; the latter may relate more to the identity, and Council members’ relationship with the rights-violator, than its primary responsibility. Layered on this is the potentiality of the outcomes to reify vulnerability. The double tiered prioritisation may have unintended international legal effects; it may sideline or reframe the positive obligation to ensure the right to freedom from all forms of violence, as expressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Further this potentiality is exacerbated by the framing; it is indeterminate of rights-based approach; some provisions are systemically connected to applicable law; others are not.

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