Dr. Başak Çali, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law, Department of Political Science, University College London
A shell fired from Syria into the back garden of 38 year old Zeliha Timuçin, in the town of Akçakale, Turkey on 3 October 2012 killed her, her 3 children and her sister in law. The Turkish military retaliated by firing artillery salvos against Syrian targets over 3 days. This raises important, but, thus far, largely unaddressed, legal questions about what international law is applicable to both the shelling by Syria, and, crucially, Turkey’s response. The identification of applicable international law, in turn, has important consequences for the attribution of responsibility for the killing of these five civilians.
The line taken by the Turkish government immediately after its retaliatory attacks on Syria on 3 October 2012 was that its actions were ‘in accordance with international law and the rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed forces’. No clarification about what body of international law was forthcoming. Given that Turkey used military force, it could only be referring to the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter and customary international law. Taking it further, and assuming there was an armed conflict between Turkey and Syria within the sense of Common Article 2 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, principles of proportionality and military necessity with regard to targeting decisions under international humanitarian law would also apply. The reference to these two bodies of law assumes that events have indeed triggered their applicability. In reality, this is far from clear.
Has there been an armed attack against Turkey within the framework of Article 51 of the UN Charter?
The reaction of the NATO at its emergency session in Brussels on 3 October 2012 qualified the shelling as an “aggressive act against an ally” – thus supporting the view that Turkey was acting in self-defense under the ius ad bellum. Read the rest of this entry…