In the United Nations charter article 2(4) the members of United Nations have agreed on a prohibition towards violence between states. More specifically it is stated that all members shall refrain in their international relations from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. From the wording of this paragraph it is clear that violence cannot be accepted in the international relationships between states. Considering the history of the United Nations, and why it was created, it is not strange that such a provision was included in the charter. The charter was agreed upon immediately after the Second World War, a war that claimed more than 60 million people. For the people back than, that first hand had experienced the horrors of war, it was common sense to make sure that states would not anymore be allowed to engage in violent conflict.
Sadly, this provision have many times been abused, misinterpreted, and misused. The charter allows for armed conflict in some instances, and that is as a measure of self-defense, when the Security Counsel approves it, which is when there is a threat to international peace and security, and when the armed forces of another nation are invited. There are no other exceptions but these to the prohibition of the use of force. However, it is obvious that charter has not been respected throughout the years. United States is one of those countries that several times have moved against the prohibition on violence. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and now, the bombings in Syria, these are not in alignment with the charter, the Security Counsel has not approved them, and hence, according to international law, they are illegal.
Unfortunately the legality of these actions is debated. Both Britain and the US have claimed that their ‘interventions’ in Syria are legally sound in that the cause of action is self-defense, and that they have an invitation from Iraq to help protect their country from the Islamic State. In terms of self-defense, the argument used is that ISIL represents a threat to both the US and Britain.
The problem with this type of reasoning, this constant nitpicking and interpretation of the UN-charter is that the prohibition on use of force is slowly being drained of all substance and meaning. And what is missed in the judicial debate is the true intention behind the UN-charter. In the preamble of the charter, the very first words written down are the following:
“We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow”
The Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties is the legal instrument that governs how conventions are to be applied and interpreted. How treaties are to be interpreted is laid down in article 31, where is stated that:
‘A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose’
It cannot be made clearer that the purpose of the charter is to abolish bloodshed. War is not an acceptable condition – and that must be the starting point from which the charter is interpreted and applied. It is obvious that if you start nitpicking, and deliberately look for loopholes and ways to legitimize war, you will be able to do that. Though that is not how the charter is supposed to be read and applied. That is not an honest and respectful way of reading and applying the charter, but rather a devious and deceptive way of circumventing principles, and rules placed by previous generations that first hand experienced the horrors of war.
The use of force can never be humanitarian. The use of force can never be justified on the grounds that it furthers democracy and human rights. AND – more importantly – the Use of Force cannot be justified within the bounds of the UN-charter through shaky legal arguments based on nitpicking and deviously interpreting words with a clear meaning, a clear purpose, and a clear context. The UN-charter is and will always stand as an instrument of peace, and by implication does not allow use of force, and any form of leeway from that main rule must be interpreted restrictively.
A problem with the charter is that, even though a country might be found guilty of breaching international law, it does not make state leaders personally liable for their decisions. Hence, in our current system, it is possible for state leaders to make unlawful decisions, causing massive suffering, without consequence. This does not make sense, just as civilians are able to face consequences when they commit murder, so should leaders and decision makers face consequences when they make decisions that, in breach of international and humanitarian laws, cause thousands upon thousands to die.
At the moment, the United Nations is more of a farce than an empowered institution capable of having real impact, and the charter, more of a document with words that sounds nice, rather than a document of principles that are lived for real. This can all be changed. The United Nations does have the potential of becoming a World Organ that can stand as a pillar of stability in difficult and tough times. For that to happen, changes must be made, and those changes must come from within the individual nations themselves. Because the United Nations, is an organization of countries that has united, and will as such only be as impactful as the involved countries allow it to be.
And here, we, the countries located in the western hemisphere have a great responsibility. Because at the moment, we have the means, we have the military strength, we have the influence, and in that, we have the opportunity to change the direction in which our world is currently moving. Even as individuals, we have the opportunity to make a difference. Because it us that elect our leaders, it us that inhabit and make up the constituency of our countries – and thus we are responsible for the actions of our leaders even though we admit that or not.
Peace is a Human Right, and the Use of Force is a Crime against Human Rights as well as International Law, and we all, regardless of where we are born, deserve a life in which our Human Rights are honored.