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Home Articles posted by Shane Darcy

Collective Punishment Receives a Judicial Imprimatur

Published on August 21, 2014        Author: 
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In her recent book on the application of international humanitarian law by national courts, Sharon Weill describes the “apologist role” that is sometimes played by domestic judicial bodies, whereby decisions of courts serve to legitimise unlawful state policies. Last week’s judgment by the Israeli Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) upholding the orders of a military commander to destroy and seal a number of Palestinian houses in the West Bank is an exemplary case in point.

The judgment in Qawasmeh et. al.is significant for it provides judicial approval for the recent reinstatement of Israel’s punitive house demolition policy after a “decade-long hiatus”. The judges condone practices of collective punishment, despite the existence of a clear prohibition of such practices under international humanitarian law. The approval is not inadvertent, for the judgment shows that the Court is fully aware of the harm caused to persons other than the perpetrator by the practice of demolishing or sealing the houses of those responsible for criminal or hostile acts.

The background facts of the case are well-known, given that the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June 2014 served as the trigger for a violent escalation leading to ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in Gaza. The Israeli authorities identified the alleged perpetrators of this crime and ordered the demolition or sealing of their homes “in view of the need to deter others from the recurrence of similar actions” (although one residence was already destroyed once the individual was identified). At the time of the judgment, two of the suspects had not been arrested and the third had not yet been tried. Since then, the demolition and sealing orders have been carried out, with a statement by the Israeli military expressly referring to the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the orders and its rejection of the petitioners’ appeals.

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Military force against Syria would be a reprisal rather than humanitarian intervention, but that doesn’t make it any more lawful

Published on September 1, 2013        Author: 
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Dr Shane Darcy is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland Galway.

The anticipated use of military force against Syria in reaction to the use of chemical weapons does not meet the permitted exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force under the United Nations Charter. Security Council authorisation has not been forthcoming, while self-defence is obviously not applicable. Although British MPs have blocked a United Kingdom military intervention, the United Kingdom government had relied up on humanitarian intervention as the legal basis to justify the use of force. The doctrine is controversial and as Dapo Akande has shown, it at best has weak legal standing in international law. But the type of limited military intervention envisaged bears all the hallmarks of a reprisal, rather than humanitarian intervention, and this concept is equally problematic in modern international law.

 Reprisals are a traditional means of law-enforcement, involving the unilateral use of force in response to breaches of international law. The Institut de Droit International defined reprisals involving the use of armed force in a resolution passed in 1934:

Reprisals are measures of coercion, derogating from the ordinary rules of international law, decided and taken by a State, in response to wrongful acts committed against it, by another State, and intended to impose on it, by pressure exerted through injury, the return to legality.

 The purpose of military intervention against Syria seems to be both punitive and deterrent; to punish Syria using chemical weapons in breach of international law and to deter any further use.  Such military action would be prima facie unlawful, in that it fails to meet the terms of the United Nations Charter. But might it be lawful as an armed reprisal?

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