Today, there have been reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. There has been no acknowledgement of responsibility, of course, but claims and counter claims are being made with the supports of each party joining in to accuse the other. This makes a mockery of the lives that have been lost and are being lost as a result of this seemingly intractable conflict.

A crime against humanity?

The use, possession and stockpiling of chemical weapons is illegal under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria is not a party, but Russia and the other permanent members of the Security Council are. This is recognition that using such weapons does indeed cross a line, one which Obama has referred to, if such weapons were to be used in Syria.

Since 1925 and the Geneva Protocol, which Syria has signed, there has been recognition that the use of such weapons would constitute a crime against humanity.

What about the ‘Responsibility to Protect’?

Now that a crime against humanity seems to have been committed by a party to a conflict, the International Community really has to decide what it means by ‘Responsibility to Protect’.

The doctrine demands that when a State is unable to protect its citizens from such crimes, there be an international response. That response falls to the Security Council.

Time to sit down and talk
UN Security Council

UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The members of the Security Council must not use this escalation to further entrench their own positions vis-à-vis the parties. Any military response will merely kill more civilians.

There is now an absolute obligation on the Security Council to sit down, put its regional differences on one side and talk about the protection of civilians and the end of the conflict.

They must demand and enforce a complete arms embargo on both sides and use the leverage they have to bring the warring parties to the table. They need to do what they are supposed to do: drawing a line on using violence to end conflict, act like civilized human beings and talk!