The Consequences of the Terrorist Attack in France in Respect of International Law

Following the terrorist attack by ISIS on 14 November 2015 in Paris, regarding the air strike operations that France carried to Rakka on 16 November, a number of questions concerning international law come to mind:

1. Does France have the right to self-defense against the ISIS? If it doesn’t have, what is the nature of France’s bombing of the ISIS positions in Rakka in internaitonal law?

The answer to the first question is, in fact, very simple. In the 51st article of the UN Treaty, if an assault against a member state of the UN occurs, the member state alone or jointly with the other states, until the necessary measures are taken by the UN Security Council, can proportionally use the right to self-defense. The right to self-defense can only be used against another state. That is, it is not possible to use this right against the non-state actors . Here, there are a lot of debates over whether the ISIS has a state qualification. ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is a rebellious group that aims to establish an Islamic state by taking advantage of the power gap in the region, although the name “state” is used in its name. At the same time, ISIS, a terrorist organization, has been taken over by a number of states on the list of terrorist organizations. In this respect, it is not possible for France to use legitimate right of self-defense against ISIS because it is not possible for a terrorist organization to be regarded as an international legal person and the right to self-defense against a non-state component can not be used. As it can be seen, in the context of Article 51 of the UN Treaty or Article 5 of the NATO Treaty [1], France can not use to legitimate the right of self-defense against a non-state actor ISIS.

2. Even though there is no actual authority in Syria, can the Assad Government, still continuing its presence in Syria, claim that it has the right to self-defense by claiming that the Syrian State violated France’s territorial integrity?

 While it is not possible to give a clear answer to this question, it is necessary to first look at the legal basis of international coalition forces fighting ISIS in general terms. There are two steps of the struggle with ISIS: struggle in Iraq and struggle in Syria. The legal basis of the offensive in Iraq is the Iraq Kurdish Administration’s call to the international coalition forces to intervene. Based on this call, the internaitonal coalition is combatting with ISIS forces through air strikes. This call does not cover a land operation. Despite the fact that the ISIS operations in Syria are not being called by central government in Syria and even if it is stated that these operations should not be done, it is still going on. Although Syria does not want the operations, it does not make an effort to stop these operations. This situation is described by the international coalition as the implicit admission of Syria. Although there is no de facto effective authority in Syria and many states do not accept the legitimacy of the Bashar al-Assad  regime, it is not possible for any state, for whatever purpose, to enter the Syrian territory and to carry out a military operation without the permission of the Syrian state in the framework of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian state. Because of the existence of civil war in Syria and the characterization of ISIS as a rebellious group, Syria’s international responsibility could be taken in the presence of certain conditions. Accordingly, if the rebel group had been successful, the new state would have international responsibility. However, if the rebellion had not successful, the Syrian government would have international responsibility only if the rebels were forgiven. In this respect, the air raids organized by France to bomb the ISIS positions in Rakka are a violation of the sovereign rights of Syria and the right of self defense of the Syrian State arises. However, although the right of self-defense of the Syrian state has been born in international law, it is not possible in practice to use Syria’s right to self-defense against France.

[1] Article 5 of the NATO Treaty: The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.


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