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Dean's Lecture

Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Event Location: 
Room 129
Event Category: 
College of Law
Event Audience: 

Dean's Lecture

Oct. 19, 12:00 - 1:00, Room 129

Mary Ellen O'Connell


The Popular but Unlawful Reprisal

On June 18, 2017, Iran launched missiles into eastern Syria attacking ISIS following violence at Iran's parliament and a shrine in Tehran. Iran threatened to retaliate in the same way for any future attacks. On April 7, 2017, the United States launched fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syri The strike was undertaken in retaliation for a chemical attack on April 4 United States intelligence linked the attack to the Syrian government. Both reprisal operations have received popular support.  Both operations, however, also violate international law, principally the United Nations Charter based prohibition on the use of force.  The Charter contains only two narrow exceptions. One is for self-defense, the other requires a UN Security Council authorization.  Neither of the attacks on ISIS meet the conditions set out in the exception.  Both were after the fact punitive strikes. As such they are clearly prohibited under the standard interpretation of Article 2(4). The UN General Assembly made this clear in its Declaration on Friendly Relations, which supports the broad reading of Article 2(4)’s prohibition and expressly prohibits reprisals. For the most part the ban on reprisals has been honored. A few prominent violations occurred after the end of the Cold War, authorized by President Bill Clinton. With the two new examples, the time is right to revisit the ban on reprisals. Despite their recent popularity, they remain an unlawful use of force.