William Schabas, who was appointed Monday by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to head an investigation into Israel’s conduct during Operation Protective Edge, argued in a blog post last year that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would not constitute a war crime.
Schabas argued that since Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute—which governs “non-international” conflicts—and since chemical weapons are not explicitly included among prohibited weapons, Syria would not be guilty of war crimes if it used chemical weapons.
At the Kampala Review Conference, held in June 2010, amendments were adopted extending the same provisions to non-international armed conflict. The amendments have only been ratified by a few States and obviously not by Syria, which is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, nor by some of the States that are accusing Syria of committing war crimes through the use of chemical weapons in a non-international armed conflict. But they also haven’t been ratified by some of the States that are now condemning Syria.
Even assuming that these provisions do apply, in a general sense, to the conflict in Syria, – the consequence of a Security Council resolution, for example – do they prohibit chemical weapons?
The point of Schabas’ analysis is to call Western countries that have nuclear weapons hypocrites:
The deficient provisions in the Rome Statute on prohibited weapons are best explained by the fact that the most powerful States possess important stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that are potentially far more harmful to humanity than isolated chemical weapons used on the battlefield. Not only do they merely retain nuclear weapons; these States continue to develop them, in defiance of their obligations under international law and in particular under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And all the while, they continue to lecture Iran and North Korea and any other rogue upstart.
It’s a point that Schabas repeated in a debate some months later after Syria was implicated in a chemical attack killing over 1000 people in August of last year.
What intrigues me is this obsession by the United Kingdom, the United States and some other countries with chemical weapons, why are they such a red line? The red line is such an issue because as far as the United States in concerned there should only be one weapon of mass destruction in the world, which is the one that they have, and they monopolise.
The appointment of Schabas is controversial because of his long history of anti-Israel statements and actions.
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