Shannon Roddel | October 23, 2019
Turkey continues its military operation in northeast Syria to control a major swath of Syrian territory, moving the Kurdish population far from its border, and Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, a renowned expert on international law, calls it lawless.
“Turkey’s ground and air offensive on Syria, made possible by a United States military withdrawal, violates the fundamental law of the international community,” O’Connell says. “Operation Peace Spring is in breach of the central principle of the United Nations Charter, the prohibition on the use of force. Any serious violation of the prohibition is aggression.
“The new offensive is not Turkey’s first unlawful attack on Syria,” she says, “though it is the most serious. This time Turkey’s military objective is to take and hold a 20-30 mile ‘buffer zone’ along the entire Turkish-Syrian border. It will then move 2 to 3 million Syrian refugees into the zone. ‘Buffer zone’ is not a term of art in international law but ‘occupation zone’ is. That is what Turkey has planned, and it, too, will be unlawful.”
As the invasion began, Turkey sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council reporting on its claim to be acting lawfully, though O’Connell says the arguments are deeply flawed.
“Under Charter Article 51, a state may use military force in self-defense ‘if an armed attack occurs,’” O’Connell explains. “Turkey’s letter doesn’t mention this clear condition. Instead Turkey complains of ‘armed harassment’ by Kurdish fighters, as well as future threats. Neither comes close to satisfying the legal conditions of self-defense.
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