Dr. Loqman Kurdistani (Radpey)*, a lecturer and researcher in international law, wrote on the discrepancy in the Western states’ attitude towards two cases of violation of sovereignty and international law: The violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia, and international law violation by Turkey in the context of northeast Syria.
Dr. Kurdistani’s article, entitled ‘The Violations of Sovereignty and the Right to Self-Determination in Rojava and Ukraine’, was published on Tuesday in Opinio Juris, the world’s first blog on discussions of international law by academics, practitioners and legal experts, founded in 2005.
Citing articles by professor Claus Kress and professor Kevin Jon Heller, who says that ‘there is no justification under international law for Turkey’s invasion of Syria’, Kurdistani underlines that Turkey’s actions have also ‘incontrovertibly led to the mass displacement of people, summary executions that qualify as war crimes, and unlawful attacks.’
He then goes on to outline and analyse ‘contrasting responses from the international community’ regarding constant violations of Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty by Turkey, and the more recent violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia.
He refers to the phrase used by international law professor Anne Peters: ‘Silence of the lambs’ in the case of Turkey’s violations:
“These violations have been met with deafening silence. Professor Anne Peters anticipated this in 2018 in her talk on Afrin in Rojava; the silence of the lambs has indeed facilitated further unlawful trans-border violence.”
Then he depicts the contrasting situation in the case of Russia’s violation:
“By contrast, Russia is now grappling with fast and unprecedentedly crippling sanctions by the US, the UK, the EU, and other individual states. Russia has not remained immune from even sporting sanctions. Furthermore, security assistance and other aid packages are continuing to flow to the victims of Russian aggression. Thanks to the provision of anti-aircraft weaponry, Russia does not exercise complete air superiority over Ukraine.”
He poses the question why there should be uneven approaches towards violations of international law:
“The contrasting practical reactions of the international community towards the Turkish invasion of Rojava and the recent Russian assault on Ukraine may trigger a challenging question in the mind of international law readers: Why should there be such an uneven approach towards blatant breaches of the same fundamental principles of international law? Does that suggest a hierarchy of sovereignty? Are some states ‘more equal’ than others? It is evident that the silence of states has not only adversely affected the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Kurds but has also jeopardized the peace and security of the whole Middle East. Since 2012, Rojava has been a safe haven for all peoples, including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and other displaced Syrians. The distinction in treatment between the two cases is explicable by pointing out that the international community of states does not consider Rojava self-rule as a self-determination unit. In December 2015, the Security Council endorsed the Final Communiqué of the Action Group for Syria through Resolution 2254, reconfirming the legal or formal criteria of peoplehood; ‘the Syrian people [or the whole people of Syria] will decide the future of Syria’. The Syrian people encompass ‘[a]ll groups and segments of society’ (Final Communiqué) in the country.”
“In actual international state practice, it has been outsiders who have decided who constitutes a people, not the peoples themselves. Groups have been designated as peoples on different territorial or ethnic criteria, given the lack of a permanent or standard definition for the term people. Varying uneven responses in self-determination contexts such as Rojava, the Kurdistan Region, Donetsk and Luhansk, have advanced some cases for self-determination while also setting back others, including the Kurdish people. As a matter of international practice, not all peoples are entitled to exercise self-determination as some peoples’ de facto nationhood is deemed less legitimate than that of others. Self-determination is still in practice a Eurocentric concept, whereas in the Middle East self-determination has remained a chimera.”
He concludes, warning that threats to international peace will continue while the sovereignty of states is not considered equal in practice:
“The result of the disparities between international responses to various international conflicts and the unevenness in application of international law is that future violation of states’ sovereignty is undeterred. The threat to international peace and security will continue as long as the sovereignty of states is not considered equal in practice as well as in law. International peace is the outcome of honouring human rights including the right to self-determination for all peoples.”
* Dr. Loqman Kurdistani is currently a Research Associate of the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law (ECIGL) at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He writes extensively on Kurdistan and statehood, self-determination and the Kurds, and the ‘Social Contract’.