1st Edition

The Conflict in Syria and the Failure of International Law to Protect People Globally Mass Atrocities, Enforced Disappearances and Arbitrary Detentions

By Jeremy Julian Sarkin Copyright 2022
    306 Pages
    by Routledge

    306 Pages
    by Routledge

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    This book explores, through the lens of the conflict in Syria, why international law and the United Nations have failed to halt conflict and massive human rights violations in many places around the world which has allowed tens of millions of people to be killed and hundreds of millions more to be harmed.

    The work presents a critical socio-legal analysis of the failures of international law and the United Nations (UN) to deal with mass atrocities and conflict. It argues that international law, in the way it is set up and operates, falls short in dealing with these issues in many respects. The argument is that international law is state-centred rather than victim-friendly, is, to some extent, outdated, is vague and often difficult to understand and, therefore, at times, hard to apply. While various accountability processes have come to the fore recently, processes do not exist to assist individual victims while the conflict occurs or the abuses are being perpetrated. The book focuses on the problems of international law and the UN and, in the context of the many enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in Syria, why nothing has been done to deal with a rogue state that has regularly violated international law. It examines why the responsibility to protect (R2P) has not been applied and why it ought to be used, generally, and in Syria. It uses the Syrian context to evaluate the weaknesses of the system and why reform is needed. It examines the UN institutional mechanisms, the role they play and why a civilian protection system is needed. It examines what mechanism ought to be set up to deal with the possible one million people who have been disappeared and detained in Syria.

    The book will be a valuable resource for students, academics and policy-makers working in the areas of public international law, international human rights law, political science and peace and security studies.


    1 Problems with International Law and International Processes

    2 Syria as One of Many Rogue or Pariah States that Continually Violate the Rights of Their People

    3 Enforced Disappearances and Arbitrary Detentions in Syria During the Conflict

    4 What Has Been Done to Halt the Conflict in Syria

    5 What Has Been Done and by Whom to Deal with the Violations, Disappearances, Detentions and the Missing in Syria?

    6 Making the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) a Real and Actually Applied International Law Norm in Situations of Conflict and Mass Human Rights Violations as well as in Syria

    7 Why Providing Victim Protection is Dependent on Reforming International Law and the United Nations

    8 The Need for an International Victim-Orientated Process to Deal with Conflict-Related Detentions and Disappearances in Syria

    9 Which Institution Should Create a New Mechanism to Search for the Disappeared and Detained in Syria?

    10 The Design of a Mechanism Needed to Conduct a Search For People and Find Information for Their Families



    Professor Jeremy Julian Sarkin teaches human rights, transitional justice and a research methodology course to doctoral students at NOVA University of Lisbon in Portugal. He is a Research Fellow in the Department of Criminology at the University of the Free State Bloemfontein, South Africa. He has a master’s in law degree from Harvard Law School and a doctorate in comparative and international law. He served as an acting judge in South Africa. He was a member (2008-2014) and served as Chairperson-Rapporteur (2009-2012) of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. He is admitted to practice as attorney in the United States and South Africa. He has published 18 books and more than 300 journal articles. He serves on a number of non-governmental organisations and journal editorial boards.

    "Through the lens of Syria, Sarkin has provided a compelling and provocative case to prioritise assistance to victims of massive human rights violations. His book raises a wealth of issues that will be of interest to readers – among them, the operation of international law, the application of the R2P doctrine, and UN reform – which goes well beyond the Syria case example. His solutions and proposals for action to address longstanding, intractable problems in international governance deserve urgent attention. The issues raised in the book need to be debated to find a new way to deal with the ills of the world."

    Leigh Toomey, Former Chairperson (2020-2021) and Member of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (2015-2022). Law in Context https://doi.org/10.26826/law-in-context.v38i1.xxx


    `Sarkin uses the Syrian conflict, with its enormous range and magnitude of atrocity crimes and human rights violations, particularly enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, as his template for analysis of systemic flaws in the international system. …[he] proposes the creation of a "new mechanism to conduct searches for disappeared and detained people in Syria and find information for their families." …These are ambitious proposals, most of which would confront political firestorms by powerful nations and a stubborn U.N. bureaucracy. But Sarkin puts his case on the table forthrightly and with significant evidence and his views are worthy of serious consideration in both the policy and academic worlds.’

    David J. Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues.

    Originally published at the Leuven Transitional Justice Blog, August 30, 2022 11:14 am (EST)


    `[T]his book is more than about failure of civilian protection in Syria and prospects for improvements therein. Syria as a case study is a microcosm of mass violations of human rights elsewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Northern Ethiopia, North Korea, and most recently in Ukraine. Read this book if you care about civilian suffering in the setting of contemporary warfare. You will not be disappointed.'
    Klejda Mulaj, Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 4, November 2022, pp. 861-865 (Article)