September 10, 2013

V. Syria and Chemical Weapons Under International Law

Syria is not among the 189 countries that are party to the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.[39]  However, Syria is a party to the 1925 Geneva Gas protocol, which bans the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices.[40]The use of chemical weapons is also prohibited as a matter of customary international humanitarian law, or the laws of war.[41] 

The prohibition on the use of chemical weapons applies to all armed conflicts, including so-called non-international armed conflicts such as the current fighting in Syria. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in the Tadic case, stated “there undisputedly emerged a general consensus in the international community on the principle that the use of [chemical] weapons is also prohibited in internal armed conflicts.”[42] In 1977, during a debate in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, Syria supported a complete ban on chemical weapons.[43]

[39] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, Paris, January 13, 1993, Doc. CD/CW/WP.400/Rev. 1, http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=9D3CCA7B40638EF5C12563F6005F63C5 (access September 7, 2013).

[40] Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, Geneva (Geneva Gas Protocol), June 17, 1925, http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Article.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=58A096110540867AC12563CD005187B9. Syria ratified the Geneva Gas Protocol in 1968.

[41] International Committee of the Red Cross, Henckaerts, Doswald-Beck, eds., Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rule 74.

[42] International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia, Tadic case, Interlocutory Appeal, October 2, 1995, sec. 120.

[43] Syria, Statement before the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, UN Doc 1/C.1/32PV.15, Sept. 30, 1977, pp. 11 and 16.