Syria strikes: Oxford Uni prof rubbishes government’s legal argument

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Military action was not in accordance with international law, says Dapo Akande

An Oxford professor is today at the heart of the furious debate about the legality of bombing Syria after writing a legal opinion for the Labour party calling the government’s legal justification “significantly flawed”.

Labour bigwig Tom Watson sent for Dapo Akande after the government published a summary of its legal position on Friday — giving the St Peter’s College expert the weekend to scramble a few thousand words together. His five-page effort, published this morning, says that the “the military action taken was not in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international law”.

British, French and US forces launched airstrikes targeting Syrian military targets last week, following evidence that the regime had used banned chemical weapons against civilians. Akande’s advice backs up Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has called the bombing “legally questionable”.

The legal debate is about whether international law allows countries to use military force in a bid to save lives. The orthodox legal position is that, in general, only force sanctioned by the UN Security Council or in self-defence is permitted.

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The government’s stance is that: “The UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering.”

But Akande hit back:

“It is quite clear that the position advocated by the government is not an accurate reflection of international law as it currently stands. International law does not permit individual states to use force on the territory of other states in order to pursue humanitarian ends determined by those states.”

Most lawyers seem to agree. The UK is the only country to justify its recent bombing of Syria with this particular legal argument.

But it does have its defenders:

And another commentator argues that the government’s position is “a good statement of what the law ought, as a matter of justice, to be” — even if it doesn’t stack up in legal terms.

Akande, whose full title is Professor of Public International Law at Oxford, has a dizzying list of qualification and publications to his name. A founder editor of EJIL:Talk!, the go-to blog for international law geeks, he taught at Nottingham and Durham before landing among the dreaming spires. Fellow academic Kevin Jon Heller, of SOAS, has called him “one of the finest scholars writing today”.

The argument about whether international law allows for other nations to be attacked for humanitarian reasons is separate to the dispute about whether MPs should have to authorise the use of British military power. Theresa May thinks not, but there will be a debate — and maybe a vote — on the airstrikes later today.

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Not Amused

I don’t think it benefits anyone to politicise law in this way.



When else should we study the law and it’s applicably than when it’s relevant?



Dapo is a wonderful academic and a very nice man.



Correct decision to bomb. Likely the UK took independent advice from QC to check on GLS advice.


UCL grad.

As if they would listen to a QC who would outline the International law for them. Please.



Never heard of him.



Unfortunately I’m sure you’ve not heard of a lot of people.



You would have if you studied international law. Literally famous in that field.



I think it’s wrong for this attack to have taken place without Parliament being even consulted.

Secondly, this attack is morally reprehensible since a government that chose not to accept refugees now chooses to bomb their country. This is a question of proportionality. Would Ms May like to avoid a humanitarian crisis? Then why not open doors instead of launching strikes.

Thirdly, strikes on chemical weapons manufactories do not stop harm against civilians. The UK needs to take this into consideration when selling weapons to countries, such as Saudi Arabia, who themselves are also attacking civilian populations. Why not also launch air strikes against any nation that attacks civilians? Why are chemical factories that much worse than actual bombs and bullets?


UCL grad.

Did he mention numerous precedents of Labour and Conservative Governemnts using such military intervention in past? No.



What does that have to do with legality? Governments are corrupt.



Previous use of force was not legal either.



I wonder how many people died the effect of the destroyed were houses!



If anyone thinks the Syria situation is over, think again.

I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe – I’m ashamed of today’s UK PMQs on Syria.

The disgusting double standards of caring for children after killing millions in needless wars over the past decades is a total disgrace. Does anyone actually believe these barefaced lies?

Then there’s the timing of the purported chemical attack, so blatantly done before inspectors had a chance to assess what weapons were used. Add to that, why the hell would Assad use such weapons when he was winning, especially after seeing what happened last time he was accused of the same? Who benefits from the crime?

I was so incredibly disappointed to hear Dominic Grieve, a lawyer and UK MP, eloquently set out the relevant international law, only to then try and align May’s ILLEGAL conduct with said.

The Responsibility to Protect Doctrine ((R2P) – intervening to save lives by attacking a country), is NOT justifiable on the basis of a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach – which is what took place in this instance by UK/US/France as they deemed themselves, judge, jury and executioner when the UN should have investigated. And this when anyone with half a brain cell knows their agenda has been ‘regime change’ for years. Does anyone actually believe their mission has magically changed to saving children when they are bombing children in Afghanistan, selling killing machines to all kinds of ‘regimes’ and denying access to refugees from the very places they purport to care for so much?

PRE-EMPTIVE WAR IS ILLEGAL which is why they have to emphasize and even fabricate reasons for R2P.

These idiots don’t realize Syria is not one of the other 14 ‘Muslim’ countries they’ve destroyed. This time they are backed by two superpowers who can destroy them – Russia, along with the support of China.

Judging by what arrogant Western governments have always done, they will not stop until they have their pound of flesh – they will try and topple Assad on the pretext of any number of excuses and carry on supporting the rebels (terrorists).

This will cause WWIII proper to begin.



“This will cause WWIII proper to begin”

Followed by a facebook link…

Its like quoting the Daily Mail as a source.



Not if I’m the author. I am the author, a lawyer and activist.


BPTC student

It’s difficult to judge credentials of anonymous “activists”.



At least I gave an opinion unlike your nonsense – who are you again?


Like quoting the guardian as a source…



You must be fun at parties.

Grab a drink and take a breath, bud. You seem to be having a rough time with all of this.



Yeah it’s really fun when your family by marriage are Syrian and they’re getting bombed by arrogant fools who can’t even wait for evidence.



Wait for evidence of what? Assad’s use of poison gas?




Public International Law: the epitome of waffly bollocks.

Whisper it softly around university law departments – lest you upset the intellectual Titans who work there – but PIL isn’t law at all. It’s just politics. And unsophisticated politics at that.



Spot on



Surely this pinpoints and publicises a big failure in the foundations of international public law. Regardless of whether the UK, USA and France were correct or incorrect is neither here nor there. The issue that needs addressing is the fundamental flaw that there is no check and balance in international law. Syria cannot be held accountable for the attack on its own people as Russia has a veto. If they were held accountable then arguably the UK, USA and France would never of set off those bombs?

Surely IPL needs a serious reform so that countries can be held accountable without independent countries feeling the need to act on their own accord?

As the UK’s loose justification suggests the Syrian citizens needed protecting and the law failed to remedy a very dangerous situation. When the law fails please do tell me, what is the best course of action?


Tryin it

So basically what you are saying is that Russia and the US should have equal voting strength to other members of the UN?

Well, well, that would mean the wild West would never ever get its way. Buddies in Westminister and DC would never want that because they would never want smaller states to have such power.

Let’s all just be thankful there’s someone to counter Western hegemony which has been the most barbaric force of the past 100 years; otherwise it would have been open season.

But then again, maybe that’s what you want.

If it wasn’t for Russia, Syria and Iran would have been destroyed by now too. I guess all these countries of brown people are just one big irritating block to racists and ex-colonialists.



Actually what I am saying is there should be a check in place to stop Russia from vetoing in circumstances where it warrants a vote. The fact that any of the security council can veto and throw things out is wrong on so many levels.

You seem to think it’s about giving power to the minority but really it is about capping the powers of the mighty.

As seen in this country an override was put in place to stop the commons vetoing everything. Just like you have the separations of powers, there needs to be a balance and IPL fails in times like this because there is no balance.

You seem to imply you know me but what do you actually know… because clearly my view and opinion screams white race. Clearly due to the stereotype you have implied I could not care for countries with people of colour? How wrong you are!

Syria was wrong for using chemical weapons on its own people and there should be consequences for it. I may not agree with the actions taken but in principle I do. Maybe if there were sanctions or legal alternatives then such drastic action would not of been taken.

Maybe it is time for a reform to amend IPL so there are legal alternatives?



Well said.



“I guess all these countries of brown people are just one big irritating block to racists and ex-colonialists.”

Wow! That is all I have to say!

WOW – with a mindset like that I am sure you’ll go far…

Tabs actually has a good point with a legal basis, though, I must admit I am not too sure what your argument is or the grounds behind it?


Tryin it

Obviously you people can’t read between the lines – the arrogant, general prevailing attitude of meddling in other countries echos white privilege and a colonial mindset – that is to what I referred.

Think about if Russia had armed the London rioters, provided aerial assistance and said they thought the government were butchers who needed replacing for countering said.

Would you want to ensure the UK’s ally US didn’t have a veto in that situation? For example, if Russia wanted to send in inspectors to see if a legitimate rebellion was being dealt with heavy-handedly?

Oh no, if that were the case Russia should have just bombed the U.K. before inspectors came to inspect. 🙄

It’s utterly absurd if you switch the actors involved.



Your post makes no sense. Honestly, none at all.

The issue is about action against a country that is dropping poison gas on its people. Start there.

Tryin it

ALLEGED. International inspectors have not given a verdict. Only nations that have been trying to topple the regime – conflict of interest.


Oh OK. So we’re in the tin foil hat zone.

I’m outta here.


“a good statement of what the law ought, as a matter of justice, to be” — What a stupid argument, try that “logic” in a court of law and be laughed out and asked if you bothered to study the law.


International Law Masters Student

The argument would be that humanitarian intervention is lex ferenda and that it requires the constituent elements of customary international law before it arises as an international norm binding all states. The Government’s statement where it outlines it believes such a right exists is a clear statement of opinio juris, coupled with the support from other EU leaders, NATO, Australia etc.



Clearly not much thought has been given to customary international law on this point.

The use of force in humanitarian circumstances is capable of becoming a peremptory norm of international law and as someone above rightly observed, international law is as much politics as it is law. How does something become a peremptory norm? Because states do it and it’s not stopped by other states.

Ever seen an international court try to enforce specific performance? What a joke.

Basically she launched the strike and who is gonna stop her?

Of course the international law position as to the validity of the use of force is a separate consideration from the constitutional position as to the use of prerogative power by the Prime Minister to carry out the strikes, for which she was perfectly entitled to do without seeking the consent of Parliament.



Or rather could be argued is a peremptory norm**.


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