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Public Lecture on military operations in Syria: Prof Johan van der Vyver
12 March 2014

The Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA) in the Faculty of Law of the University of Pretoria hosted a public lecture by Prof Johan D van der Vyver, IT Cohen Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Emory Law School, Atlanta, Georgia, and Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Private Law, University of Pretoria on 12 March 2014 at the University of Pretoria.

After the welcoming by Dean André Boraine, programme director Prof Erika de Wet, who is the Co-director of ICLA, introduced Prof van der Vyver to the audience.

Prof van der Vyver's lecture focused on the response of the aforementioned countries. “President Barack Obama based the legitimacy of an armed attack against (undefined) targets in Syria on considerations of self-defense and the defense of allied countries in the region such as Israel, Jordan and Macedonia. The problem with this approach is that neither of the countries mentioned have been attacked by Syria or are under threat of an armed attack.”  Prof van der Vyver said that “It should be evident to everyone that Syria had no intention whatsoever to launch an armed attack against the United States or against any of its allies in the region. That being the case, an armed attack by American forces against targets in Syria cannot even with any stretch of the imagination be justified on self-defense grounds—anticipatory, pre-emptive or otherwise!”

“French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s proposal that Syria should be rapped over the knuckles for its unlawful and highly unbecoming act was the least persuasive of all the reasons advanced by Western powers for an armed attack against selected Syrian targets.  Considering the responses of the Heads of State of France, Great Britain and the United States to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is fair to conclude that, in this matter, the Russian Federation has set the international community of States on the right course.”