Home News Is Australia a Party to War Crimes in Syria?

Is Australia a Party to War Crimes in Syria?

Example of white phosphorous (this event over Mosul)

By James O’Neill*

In September 2015 the Australian government decided that it was joining the US-led “coalition” to fight in Syria in what was described at the time as a war against the terrorist group ISIS (also known as ISIL, IS or Daesh). The decision was purportedly made following the receipt of legal advice as to the legality under international law of Australia joining that particular war. It was subsequently revealed that the government had received the legal advice a year earlier than when it said it was “waiting” for the advice.

The contents of that advice have never been disclosed, although the overwhelming weight of international legal opinion was that any intervention in Syria (by Australia or anybody else) that was other than by invitation of the Syrian government (which it didn’t have) or pursuant to a Security Council resolution (which doesn’t exist) would be illegal.  The lies, obfuscations and secrecy by the Abbott-Turnbull government have been unwavering ever since.

It is well established that Australia’s adherence to international law is at best a flexible concept.  There is now further evidence however, that Australia is, at the very least, also a party to war crimes being carried out in Syria by what are invariably described as “warplanes of the US-led Coalition.”

That coalition includes, in addition to Australia and the US, Denmark, Netherlands, France, UK, Germany and Jordan.  The war crime in question is the use of white phosphorous, a particularly nasty form of weaponry that burns through skin and bone, and is a fire that cannot be extinguished by water.  Its victims die a horrible and painful death.

White Phosphorous

The use of white phosphorous in situations where civilians, the civilian population, or civilian objects are the target, or where there is a military target but the military object is located within a concentration of civilians is prohibited.

That prohibition, along with definitions and a great deal more besides, is found in the Protocols that form part of the Convention on the Prohibition and Restriction on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons that came into force on 2 December 1983.  Australia signed the Convention on 8 April 1982 and formally ratified it on 29 September 1983.  It has been part of our law therefore for 34 years exactly.

There have been a steady series of reports out of both Iraq and Syria on the use of white phosphorous by coalition airplanes. That use has been in civilian areas. As may be inferred from the above definitions as used in the Convention and the three Protocols, it does not matter that civilians are not directly targeted. The bombing of civilian areas where there are highly likely to be “concentrations of civilians” is prohibited. There are plenty of examples in criminal law where lack of intent is not a defence if one is acting recklessly.

The criminal law of parties is also instructive in this context.  A “party” is the person who actually carries out the criminal act, (in this case dropping white phosphorous munitions) or someone who does some act to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of the act that constitutes the offence.

Applying that to the Syrian situation there are innumerable public statements from Australian politicians that are readily discerned as aiding, abetting counselling or procuring the US to continue its illegal war in Syria.

There is also specific evidence from the Department of Defence’s own website of the illegal activity. The website, under the rubric of Operation Okra sets out the record of operational activity by RAAF aircraft in Syria. The relevant activity by the RAAF in the present context is that the E7A planes provide the electronic facility for locating the targets that are then bombed, and the KC30A planes refuel them to enable them to stay aloft and carry on bombing. The details are previously described in Gumshoe News on 22 September 2017.

By most definitions both of these acts by the E7A and KC30A RAAF planes constitute “aiding and abetting” the commission of the war crimes. Within the past few days white phosphorous has been deployed by “coalition air planes” against civilians in Idlib province, in Deir ez Zor province (where Syrian Army and Russian forces have also been attacked by the US or its terrorist proxies), and in the city of Raqqa.

On 28 September 2017 the Syrian Foreign Ministry wrote letters to both the Secretary General of the UN and the President of the Security Council demanding an immediate halt to the US led airstrikes that it accurately described as “illegal”.

This was preceded two weeks ago by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also reiterating that any military forces in Syria not there at the invitation of the Syrian Government or pursuant to a Security Council resolution were there “illegally.”

It will come as no surprise to learn that Lavrov’s warning; the participation in war crimes by Australian forces; and the Syrian demand that the US led coalition should cease its activities immediately has not been reported in or on any mainstream media outlet in Australia.

It seems that blind adherence to the wishes of our “joined at the hip” ally, the US, extends to refusing parliamentary debate, suppressing public discussion in the mainstream media, and extensively participating in war crimes.  One seriously questions why Australia even bothers to try and maintain the manifest fiction that it is committed to the rule of law and its obligations under the various Charters that it readily signs up to but then simply ignores.

*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst.  He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au

Photo credit: Human Rights Watch


  1. It’s about time that our Service pilots woke up to the fact that they are war criminals that can at any time be charged with these crimes. They cannot hide behind the fact that they are ordered by senior officers or politicians. As the Nuremburg Trials pointed out, it is no defence to commit these war crimes because a person is commanded to take part in a war crime.

    Pointing out this fact to Service personnel may be the way to have the practice abandon. However once a person enters the forces they are brainwashed very severely and they may ignore these warnings because “they know better than us foolish civilians”. But many of us civilians have been Service people at some time. Myself included.

  2. “Article 1 of Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons defines an incendiary weapon as “any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target”. The same protocol prohibits the use of said incendiary weapons against civilians (already forbidden by the Geneva Conventions) or in civilian areas. The convention also defines weapons which are not to be considered to be incendiary weapons.”

    • US coalition using illegal chemical weapons in Deir ez-Zor (GRAPHIC IMAGES)
    • http://theduran.com/breaking-us-using-illegal-chemical-weapons-deir-ez-zor/

    These war crimes and crimes against humanity are becoming common knowledge. Those who are aiding and abetting the commissioning of these crimes have no choice but to double down and hope they are not brought to justice.

  3. Murdering the innocent and young for no reason at all . All victims are martyrs for truth here on earths heavenly creation . We have become desensitised by msm barbaric kabal of black magic sorcery and destruction on a scale unimaginable in previous generations . Throw away the tellies (tell lies vision) it is all manufactured lies produced by the murderers . The time has come to stand up and say enough is enough to this satanic insanity threatening all and everything .
    Wtf do we have phosphorous bombs and nuclear just so our pure evil leaders can blow the world up one thousand times over . The Big Bang theory is not only sending everyone broke spiritually and financially but can destroy everything created by Our Heavenly Father .

    Hug your children today and think of those poor innocent families in the Middle East . We can be next . Karma , for every action there is a reaction .
    Love is not war . War is evilution .

    ” Love God with all your strength and your neighbour just as much “.

    • A martyr is one who chooses death rather than renounce the truth.A victim is one whose death is not a consequence of any sort of conscious choice.

      If you don’t like the MSM you should steer clear of the associated language degradation.

  4. Clearly the laws made by man do not mean much these days but Natural Law is immutable, thank goodness, and I am sure the day of reckoning is approaching.

    Hence the saying, reap what you sow, chickens come home to roost, what goes around comes around, you have to sleep in the bed you make, etc

    So when man’s law is not applied, Natural Law will always come into effect.

  5. Well done James – TODAY more news about atrocities by Australia in Iraq:

    “ADF’s bombing raids could have killed two children in Iraq — Two children are feared to be among those killed in separate bombing raids in Iraq involving the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

    Key points:

    Two incidents of civilian casualties in West Mosul involved Australian aircraft or personnel
    Iraqi forces under fire from ISIS fighters when RAAF hornets called in
    ADF says its members operated within strict rules of engagement
    The Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, has detailed two incidents of civilian casualties in West Mosul which occurred this year involving Australian aircraft or personnel.”


  6. Oh thank you, James. This is so important.

    Please clarify: when you say the scout plane (from Oz) finds a target, do you mean that the same plane does the bombing? Not sure if you meant they then ask Uncle Sam to do the dirty. If it’s the Aussies, why are they only “abetting”?

    Also, is the treaty enough? Is any other step required before it is enforceable law in Oz? Also, is there proof other than the photo, of white phosphorus?

  7. Hullo Mary.
    1. No, the spotter plane provides electronic guidance for the bomber.
    2. Any act that facilitates a crime is aiding or abetting.
    3. The treaty, having been ratified, is part of Australian law.
    4. A whole library on the use by the US of white phosphorous, which didn’t begin with Syria. The Pentagon does not hide the fact. Their claim generally is that it is only targeted at terrorists. Civilian casualties are “regrettable” collateral damage and always inadvertent.
    You may have noticed the news item buried in the local msm of an inquiry into the ADF killing children in a bombing strike in Iraq. It occurred in March! It will be written down as an “accident” just like the bombing of Russians in Syria.

  8. […] Some authorities consider that Australia’s deployment in Iraq as well as in Syria is illegal, as the pretention of “collective self-defence” on behalf of another state is false. And while the evidence for direct Australian involvement in proven war crimes in Syria is thin, one particular case stands out – our involvement in the strike on the SAA base in Deir al Zour on September 17th 2016. […]

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