The Façade of International Law and The United States

The Façade of International Law and The United States

By Anonymous; Image by Human Rights Watch

Within both academia and policymaking, international law is held at high standards for ensuring just and fair interactions between international actors. In light of the recent conflicts in Ukraine and in Israel and Palestine, there have been increasing sentiments of uneasiness with regards to the purpose truly served by international law. Questions about its efficacy have come to the forefront, alongside questions about the potential biases that prevail within its application.

In the 83 days since the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel, the Israeli retaliation campaign has been immensely controversial. There have been an overwhelming buildup of records of evidence that highlight the indiscriminate violence imposed by the Israeli military under the guise of an anti-terror campaign. While much of the civilian casualties were initially written off as collateral damage, avoiding accountability for any potential accusations of indiscriminate violence against civilians, some of the actions of the Israeli state remain completely and utterly in violation of international law. First is the repeated usage of white phosphorus bombs in both Gaza and Lebanon, which stands in direct violation of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, entered into force in 1983 after its conclusion in Geneva in 1980. Under Protocol III of this convention, incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus bombs have been made completely illegal. In spite of this, the evidence of its usage in the recent conflict remain completely unaddressed by international law. 

Similarly, a recent attack on Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital has sparked debates on the legality of either side’s usage of the hospital within the context of the conflict. The hospital was first attacked via the accusation that there were terrorist bases built underneath and within the hospital. If true, this would have been a violation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which bars any military involvement in hospitals completely (including using hospitals as human shields). If untrue, the attack would be a violation of the same statute. The accusation remained uninvestigated by parties unaffiliated with the conflict until after the attack. Recently, the Washington Post released an investigation into these claims and concluded that the evidence presented by the IDF does not substantiate its claims prior to the attack. This demands an urgent invoking of international law – since the attack was carried out without presenting sufficient evidence to claim exemption of the Rome Statute, it raises great concern for international law, as the attack could have been another direct violation of a very important tenet of the body of law. 

International law remains to be invoked in both instances which seem to be certain violations of it. It is often argued that the reason behind international law not being a part of these conversations is because the violence is ongoing, and it is difficult to prosecute in the midst of such an intense war. However, this seems to contradict the promptness of The United States’ recent invocation of the same body of law, in response to Yemen’s aggression in the Red Sea. As soon as Yemeni attacks began to rise in scale and started targeting trading ships and non-military vessels, the United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, invoking international law and saying that this operation is to ensure that international law is not violated.

Clearly, the United States is able to exercise its hegemonic powers to protect international law even in regions that are strife with conflict. Clearly, America claims a commitment to ensuring that all nations adhere to this law. What, then, excuses the complete disregard of violations of this international law in the Middle East? Where does this commitment disappear to when it is an ally of the United States violating the law, and not a country like Yemen? Does International Law truly protect International Human Rights, or simply the Human Rights of those that America deems important? These questions not only pertain to the efficacy of the law itself, but also to the legitimacy of America’s hegemonic power. Surely, a racially biased usage of international law demands an immediate reform on the power structures that exercise this law. At what point do we consider racism as an explanation for this disproportionate commitment to using international law to protect American interests, but disregarding international law when Arab civilians are dying? 

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