UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Tuesday questioned the legality of the US plan to strike Syria. Ban stated [Reuters report] that the use of force is lawful only in two very limited circumstances: (1) when used in self-defense according to Article 51 [text] of the UN charter or (2) when the UN Security Council (UNSC) [official website] approves such action. Ban questioned whether the planned use of force would solve the situation in Syria. He added that such use would cause more damage. Ban noted that UN inspectors are deployed to investigate whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria. According to Ban, the UNSC would be able to overcome its differences and take action once investigations are done. A potential US strike has been opposed by Russia. President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] on Wednesday warned [NBC report] the US and its allies to take any unilateral action. However, he stated that he may support the UN action once investigations reveal the use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been ongoing since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] condemned [JURIST report] the reported chemical weapon attacks that killed hundreds in the Ghouta region of Damascus as a "serious escalation" in the fight between Syria's government and rebel forces. Also last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that nine apparent ballistic missile attacks on populated areas have killed at least 215 citizens including 100 children. In July the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria urged the international community [JURIST report] to bring peace to the country. In May Pillay expressed concern [JURIST report] regarding reports that described the slaying of entire Syrian families and shelling of communities, as well as the targeted strikes by Syrian armed forces on hospitals and schools. More than 100,000 people have been killed since fighting began between Syrian Government forces and opposition groups seeking to oust Assad. Almost two million have fled to neighboring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced.