Tag Archives: use of force

Italy’s Reaction to the Use of Chemical Weapons at Khan Shaykhun and to the US Attack on a Syrian Airfield

On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad.[1] As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians. 

In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun.[2] It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.[3]

In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government.[4] The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”.[5] On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons.[6] The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”.[7] Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.[8] 

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The Legal Requirements for Military Intervention and for Humanitarian Assistance in Libya

The situation in Libya was of great concern for the Italian Government during 2016. The instability of the African country and the risk of increased terrorist activities on Libyan soil carried a significant weight in the reports of the Italian executive in front of the Parliament. Within these issues, the parliamentary practice of Italy highlighted three strictly intertwined legal questions, namely the requirements for military intervention and for humanitarian assistance in Libya, as well as the boundaries of the concept of self-defence. It should not come as a surprise that in this case, during 2016, migration issues played a relatively minor role with respect to security concerns. One might take the view that the stability of the State and the need of having an effective government can be seen as preconditions for tackling the root causes of migration. Speaking about the requirements for intervening militarily in Libya the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, affirmed the need of obtaining a formal request from the legitimate government. On 9 March 2016, in front of the Chamber of Deputies (586th Meeting, XVII Legislature) he stated the following:

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