We must clarify when is intervention lawful says 20th annual Frankel Lecture Speaker Harold Hongju Koh

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Yale Law School Professor Harold Hongju Koh says it is important to clarify the Responsibility to Protect rules at the 20th Annual Frankel Lecture.

Nov. 17, 2015- In extreme circumstances, countries that respect human-rights will intervene abroad to prevent needless civilian slaughters, however, constraints in domestic and international law still exist, said Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale School, and a former legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State, during the 20th annual Frankel Lecture hosted and sponsored by the Houston Law Review.

In his Frankel Lecture, titled "The War Powers and Humanitarian Intervention," Koh, explored the tensions within and among the domestic and international law doctrines of war powers and humanitarian intervention, and suggested possible ways to reconcile them.

"If you take risk to prevent a slaughter, you risk that it will be unlawful," said Koh.

Koh evaluated the use of force in places like Kosovo, which he said the U.S. justified by policy factors that were essentially "unlawful" but "legitimate" along with Libya and Syria, where intervention saved people's lives by preventing mass slaughters and by removing chemical weapons respectively. 

He proposed that in order for humanitarian intervention to work and not be thought of as "unlawful" it was important to form clear set rules of Responsibility to Protect and clarify when intervention is lawful.

Dawn Johnsen, Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and Ashely Deeks, Associate Professor of Law at University of Virginia Law School, who served as commentators presented different solutions to stop "unlawful" intervention.

Johnsen agreed with Koh that Congress needs to make some changes, but argued that when Congress enacts legislation, presidents must respect the enactments, referring to the Bush and Obama administrations.

She said the correct way of interpreting the law is not by what is "reasonable or right," it is about what is "legal."

Deeks said "humanitarian intervention sounds good in theory, but it is very difficult in practice."

Her options to address the issue were multifactor tests, which could be put into place to determine when intervention is appropriate, but said that such tests require "predictive capacity that almost no nation can accurately come up with."

In his last remarks Koh said, "Intervention can make things worse, but people die and sometimes when you do something you can save lives."

"The Houston Law Review is honored to have hosted Professor Koh, Professor Johnsen, and Professor Deeks for the 20th Annual Frankel Lecture on War Powers and Humanitarian Intervention," said Houston Law Review Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Grace.  "The lecture provided a very timely discussion of the domestic and international legal issues concerning the international use of force in defense of human rights and humanitarian concerns."

Mike and Theresa Baker Law Center Professor Jordan Paust, served as the moderator of the annual program, which is underwritten by the Frankel Family Foundation.

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