International Nuisance

6 09 2013

Category; Law, Middle East, Politics

Chaos in Syria drags on, the international community struggles to work out what they should do and on what basis. There is an answer; from the English Common Law concept of Nuisance.

One of the main arguments against intervention is that there is no basis in international law to act in the internal affairs of another country without UN approval.

A doctrine of International Nuisance would create a just and legal framework for dealing with situations just like Syria.

One of the things about Common Law that some people find immensely frustrating, but which is exactly one of its finest qualities, is that it can often seem quite vague. Here’s my stab at a working definition;

Public Nuisance is something emanating from private place that threatens, bothers or interferes with the rights of people within the community beyond the place it comes from.

A peculiarity of Public Nuisance is that because it interferes with the rights of the community it is only open to the Crown (the State) to take up an action.

So how does this relate to Syria?

Taking the same concept (and considering Syria like the private land and the international community as the state) the recent use of chemical agents within Syria would not qualify as International Nuisance, and nor would the more than 100,000 deaths there. That might sound shocking, but because that all took place within Syria there is no interference with the international community.

The trigger for the concept of International Nuisance in this case is the refugee crisis. From a pre-crisis population of 22 million, there are upwards of 5 million internally displaced refugees and 2 million people who have fled Syria – see here.

Those refugees are the International Nuisance. It sounds a bit grim to label a refugee a nuisance, but it’s legal language; it doesn’t mean you’re judging or criticising the people who have been affected by this calamity.

Hundreds of thousands of people streaming into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and beyond causes severe strains and problems in those countries.

Further, the instability within Syria threatens the stability of those countries, other countries in the region and the world in general.

To rely on UN Security Council approval of an action for it to be legal does not make inaction just.

The five states with veto powers on that council exercise their veto in line with their own perceived interests. Vladimir Putin today re-iterated his position that international law only allowed action against a sovereign state where it is approved by the UN – see here.

A doctrine of International Nuisance would recognise that threats come in more forms than directly from the barrel of a gun.



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