Syria: “The solution has got to be law – not war.”

The British PM, David Cameron, has claimed that he has evidence that the Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people in breach of international law(1). He claims, such inhumane and disgraceful action justifies the overthrow of the Assad regime. In order to bring about this overthrow of the Syrian Government, David Cameron wants the UK government to authorise British military action in Syria. This action is to involve working with the US, and directed at the ISIS terrorist organisation.


While that is the declared aim of the British PM, there are reports that the US government have been arming and training the Free Syrian Army(2) – which is an anti-Assad group intent on overthrowing President Assad(3). To confuse matters even more, we now have a Russian involvement whose aim is to support the “legitimate” Syrian Government of President Assad – with reports that Russian bombing campaign has led to the surrender of Free Syrian Army rebels to the Assad Syrian Government(4).

While all this confused bombing is taking place, there are reports that the British Prime Minister will again try to persuade the House of Commons that British troops should become directly involved in the Syrian conflict. Should that be the case, the approach of the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn could be of importance. Will he support the use of British bombers in Syria, or will he oppose such action?

To find a likely answer to this question we can turn to Jeremy Corbyn’s  words over Bin Laden(5): “The solution has got to be law – not war.”

So, if David Cameron has evidence that President Assad has breached international law, via the use of chemical weapons on Syrian people, why does he not seek to petition the International Criminal Court(6) to have the crime investigated? If there is sufficient evidence against Assad, it must surely be possible to summon him to appear before the ICC as a defendant. Yes, Assad may choose to stay in Syrian and refuse to recognise or attend the Court. But that should not mean that the trial could not proceed (either with or without Assad, or his defence lawyers). Neither does it mean that Assad could not be acquitted or found guilty of the charges against him.

Should Assad be found guilty and sentenced, then his arrest would be problematic. But he could be arrested at any time were he to leave Syria. However, a legal finding of guilt would also put political pressure on the Syrian Government and even the Russian Government. Indeed, would the Russians be prepared to give military support to a tyrant who has been found guilty of human rights abuse? Possibly they will, but it is more likely that they too would insist upon regime change in Syria.

So, what this means is that Jeremy Corbyn could yet hold the key to some of the problems in Syria. The current conflict has gone on for over four years and it seems to be getting worse day by day. Thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians have been bombed and killed. Millions have fled, many to various parts of the globe – including Europe.

Bombs are not resolving the crisis. They are making it worse. As Jeremy Corbyn has said: “The solution has got to be law – not war.” That being said, a legal solution may solve the Assad situation – it would not solve the ISIS terrorist problem. That could be solved by Jaw, Jaw, rather than War, War – but that requires the goodwill of terrorists and governments. It seems more likely that a military solution may be necessary if a political solution is not possible. Certainly, the Jeremy Corbyn idea of using UN soldiers to create temporary safe havens for Syrian civilians within Syria has some merit(7). Assuming this is undertaken via the United Nations, it would provide a legal solution that could help protect the Syrian people and refugees.









Dr Peter Jepson is the editor of 
LawsBlog. He tweets as @Lawsblog