Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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United in Paralysis

Bradley Willis

On April 1, 2017, the armed forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapon attack on a Syrian hospital.[1]  Unfortunately, this attack is not the first instance of chemical warfare in the Syrian Civil War.[2]

Raging for the past six years, the Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.[3]  In 2012, then-President Barack Obama drew the non-infamous “redline”, claiming it would “change my calculus” if chemical weapons were used in the Syrian War. [4] While the Obama Administration appeared to be heading towards another intervention in the Middle East, the administration soon reversed itself, placing its hopes on a deal reached with the Russian Federation.  In this 11th hour deal, the Russians were to oversee the destruction of President Assad’s chemical weapons.[5]

While the United States may well have avoided another Middle Eastern quagmire and may well have ceded prestige and influence to the Russians, the world largely watched the horror unfold as thousands of Syrian citizens were rendered helpless by chemical nerve agents.  The world was horrified at the effects of the nerve agents, and yet the world continued with business as usual.

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Just as then-President Obama was torn between military intervention in the Syrian Civil War and non-intervention, President Trump is torn between intervening in a years-long war and remaining on the sidelines.  Even though candidate Trump campaigned on an “American First” platform, consistently claiming he was against the Second Iraq War from the beginning, the President must understand that America must stand for the non-use of chemical or biologic weapons against citizens, or even on the battlefield.

America, from its founding, has stood for the universal rights of freedom and self-determination, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence from George III, chief among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  While, like all nations, the history of the United States is tainted with horrific episodes, the United States stands for human rights.  In the history of the world, the United States is one of the only, if not the only, nation that fought a brutal civil war to set other men free from bondage.

Furthermore, the United States, and its allies, fought two World Wars under the principles of self-determination and freedom from tyranny, persecution, and genocide.  From the ashes of the Second World War rose the United Nations.  That institution too, seems incapable of stopping Assad’s gas attacks.

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     Protected by the Chinese and Russian veto, the Syrian government will probably never pay for its gross violation of international law and the laws of war.  This then begs the question: if the United Nations is no longer an institution capable of protecting the innocent, then what is its purpose in its current form?  What would make this institution capable of truly bringing violators to justice and face the consequences of their actions?

There has been some discussion on reforming the United Nations Security Council.  In what form would such an arrangement take?  Would there be any permanent members removed from their permanent positions?  Who would take their place?  In the event present permanent members are not removed, what members would receive permanent membership?  Finally, how would that affect the veto powers?

Some have offered the addition of the “BRIC(S)” as permanent members to the Security Council, minus the already-permanent members of Russia and China.  As the leading emerging economies Brazil, India, and South Africa would receive permanent status as well as a veto.

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As the largest country in South America, Brazil would add diversity to the Council, as it would be the only permanent member from South America.  As another emerging economy with a large population, and a democracy, India would be a leading candidate to receive permanent status.  However, given various geopolitical concerns, China would likely vocally oppose any such appointment to the Security Council’s permanent members.  Pakistan, India’s longtime rival, would oppose such an appointment as well.  Given the absence of an African voice on a permanent basis, South Africa would probably receive the veto and permanent status.  But the question would then turn to the following: given the dilution of the veto, what would be its power? 

Would the United Nations determine that since there would be as many as eight members, would any veto require just one permanent member to halt a resolution, or would two members be necessary?  Could this body become more democratic, with “majority rule” be the rule?  If that is the case, how would the decidedly non-democratic states of Russia and China respond?  They could, one could plausibly foresee, cut back on their involvement in the Security Council, deciding that they no longer have as much of a stake in the body.

While the United Nations has been unable to protect the innocent in conflicts like Rwanda, the Sudan, Syria, or Eastern Ukraine, the UN must reevaluate its work.  The United Nations appears paralyzed and incapable of living up to providing for peace and prosperity for all nations.  Perhaps a remedy for this apparent paralysis could include more permanent members of the Security Council while revising the current rules regarding the veto powers of the permanent members.  

While the United Nations expressed outrage as from this most recent chemical weapons attack against an innocent civilian population, the UN has not taken any concrete actions against Bashar al-Assad.  While President Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, the president’s most recent actions[6] are polar opposites of such a course.  United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley stated that, regime change in Syria is “inevitable.”[7]

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It appears that President Trump is evolving in his new role as commander in chief and as leader of the free world.  From campaigning on an “America First” platform to his strikes against Syria, and the dispatching of the USS Carl Vinson strike group to the Korean Peninsula, President Trump has shown he is willing to use military force to further the interests of the United States in the absence of United Nations action.[8]

Bradley Willis is a 3L at the University of Baltimore School of Law.  He graduated from the University of Delaware (2014) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minors in History and French and studied abroad in Caen, France.  His areas of interest are international relations, history, politics, and the laws of war.  Bradley spent a semester externing with the Hermina Law Group, researching and writing sovereign immunity issues as well as embassy law.  Last year, he participated in the Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition.  He is currently a law clerk for the Law Office of David B. Love, P.A.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/09/middleeast/syria-missile-strike-chemical-attack-aftermath/index.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nearly-1500-killed-in-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-us-says/2013/08/30/b2864662-1196-11e3-85b6-d27422650fd5_story.html?utm_term=.4ada9a3de471

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/world/middleeast/death-toll-from-war-in-syria-now-470000-group-finds.html?_r=0

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2013/09/06/president-obama-and-the-red-line-on-syrias-chemical-weapons/?utm_term=.598421a987c9

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23876085

[6] Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles were launched from two American destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea against the airfield the Syrian armed forces launched their chemical attack

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/09/middleeast/syria-missile-strike-chemical-attack-aftermath/index.html

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/09/politics/navy-korean-peninsula/


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The Ugly Side of International Tournaments

Christian Kim

Brazil, as the hosts of the 2014 World Cup, had the opportunity to show the world that they could host a successful tournament.  Even before Brazil’s shocking 7-1 loss to Germany, many Brazilians were already displeased with the World Cup.[1]  To prepare for the tournament and the eventual 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil tried to pacify their country by tearing down the drug-infested and crowded slums known as the favelas.[2]  Although China, England, and South Africa used similar beautification tactics before their respective tournaments, the Brazilian government did this at an unprecedented rate and often in violation of their domestic law.[3]

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For one, many Brazilians were given very little notice before these evictions and almost little to no compensation for their removals.[4]  Although the World Cup and Olympic officials in Brazil claim that, “no forced evictions have been conducted… independent research by local NGOs…including Amnesty International and WITNESS have proven otherwise.”[5]  An example of these evictions is in the region of Mare, home to over 130,000 working class citizens.  Even though Mare is not as bad as some of Brazil’s notorious favelas, the military police ordered these residents to leave immediately.[6]  Instead of being offered feasible housing alternatives, thousands of families were violently thrown out onto the street to fend for themselves.[7]  As a result, many Brazilians are asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to address these human rights issues but the IOC has not done much.[8]  A few NGOs from other countries have pushed to revoke Brazil’s Olympic hosting rights.  With less than six months before the Olympics, even if Brazil were to give up hosting rights, finding a replacement would be logistically impossible.  Bearing the mistakes of Brazil in mind, the international community should turn their focus to future international tournaments, such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, to prevent this occurrence from happening again.

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Unfortunately, there seems to be a correlation with international tournaments and host nations violating human rights; however, none are as bad as Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup.  The rights to host the World Cup in Qatar spurred huge infrastructure projects, at an estimated USD $100 billion.[9]  In preparations for the World Cup, Qatar invited millions of migrant workers from mostly poor South and Southeast Asian nations.[10]  Many of these migrant workers were lured into the country under false pretenses and have been paid substantially less than what was promised.[11]  These migrant workers have also been forced to sleep in unsanitary homes and subject to harsh working conditions.[12]  Studies on migrant worker’s conditions have estimated more than 1,000 accidents per year, with 10% of these workers paralyzed from the accident.[13]  A shocking report from the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that over 4,000 laborers will die during the preparations for the World Cup.[14]  Despite complaints from various international organizations, the Qatari Football Association has denied these issues citing, “prejudice and racism” as reasons why the international community is criticizing Qatar’s preparations.[15]

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Even if migrant workers in Qatar wanted to leave, they cannot under the kafala system.  The kafala system, bars these migrant workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ approval and many employers take away their passports to ensure this.[16]  Without being able to change jobs or unionize for better working conditions, Qatar is essentially trapping these migrant workers into what some NGOs are calling, “modern day slavery.”[17]  Qatar and their migrant worker plight was put under the international spotlight last year during the aftermath of the deveastating earthquakes in Nepal.  A good portion of the migrant workers come from Nepal and many had relatives affected from the earthquake.  Most, if not all Nepali migrant workers, were denied leave by their employers because of the kafala system.[18] With all of these human rights violations occurring in Qatar, many of the migrant workers are looking to FIFA for help.

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Recently, many of FIFA’s top officials, including FIFA President Sepp Blatter, were arrested on corruption charges.[19]  With Sepp Blatter’s resignation, there’s a chance for FIFA to make sure that the incoming officials will enforce better working conditions for the migrant workers in Qatar.  One way to ensure a new generation of competent FIFA officials is to have the UN Human Rights Council observe FIFA and work hand-in-hand with Qatar’s Football Association.  Since all Member States of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) compete in the Olympics and the World Cup, they should have a vested interest in Qatar’s compliance with human rights standards.[20]  The HRC’s goals are to promote and protect human rights for all.[21]  The HRC has the capacity to work with international organizations, like FIFA, and the HRC can work with FIFA to set standards, monitor, and implement better working conditions for these migrant workers.[22]  As one of the members of the HRC, Qatar should be held to a higher standard and ensure better working conditions for the migrant workers.

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Qatar is also a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and even ratified the Convention on Forced Labor.[23]  This convention defines forced labor as, “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”  The ILO has given examples of involuntary work such as: physical confinement in the work location, deception about types and terms of work, withholding and non-payment of wages, and retention of identity documents.[24]  One of the basic principles of international law is that international agreements ought to be followed in good faith (the principle of pacta sunt servanda).  As a party to the ILO and HRC, Qatar has a duty to follow the goals of these organizations by respecting and promoting these migrant worker’s human rights.  If Qatar does not comply, pressure from the international community to withdraw Qatar’s hosting rights might work.  Unlike the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, there’s an ample amount of time to change the hosts before the 2022 World Cup.  We, as the international community, have a duty to enforce international human rights obligations.  If countries like Qatar play dirty off the pitch, why should the international community allow them to host the “beautiful game”?

Christian Kim is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law and graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. He currently serves as the President of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association as well as the 2L Rep for the Student Bar Association. His interests are East Asian politics, international conflicts, and human rights.  Before Law School, Christian has worked for the Korean Ministry of Education as a TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) Scholar and Coordinator for two years. He is currently a legal intern at the Hermina Law Group and a law clerk for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/28102403

[2] http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24248-rio-state-of-mind-favela-pacification-and-the-2014-world-cup

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/05/world-cup-favelas-socially-cleansed-olympics

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2011/11/brazil-forced-evictions-must-not-mar-rio-olympics/

[5] Id.

[6] http://revolution-news.com/brazil-police-evict-5-thousand-poor-people-at-gunpoint/

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/08/rio-olympics-2016-human-rights-violations-report

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33019838

[10] http://www.thenation.com/article/qatars-world-cup-preparations-could-kill-as-many-as-4000-migrant-workers/

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/20/qatar-promises-change-unpaid-migrant-workers

[12] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar

[13] http://humantraffickingcenter.org/posts-by-htc-associates/a-world-cup-built-on-exploitation-and-forced-labor-in-qatar/

[14] Id.

[15] http://sports.yahoo.com/news/no-way-qatar-lose-2022-world-cup-foreign-154654987–finance.html;_ylt=A0LEVizb36pWkU4AoncPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTByNXQ0NThjBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM1BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

[16] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar

[17] http://www.businessinsider.com/qatar-slavery-build-a-2022-world-cup-2013-9

[18] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/24/qatar-denies-nepalese-world-cup-workers-leave-after-earthquakes

[19] http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/05/fifa-corruption-arrests/394199/

[20] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

[21] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/WhatWeDo.aspx

[22] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HowWeDoIt.aspx

[23] https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/06/12/building-better-world-cup/protecting-migrant-workers-qatar-ahead-fifa-2022#_ftn79

[24] Id.