Details are still emerging about Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria, but the US, France and Britain have already condemned the Syrian government for gassing its own people. On Wednesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, threatened the US may take unilateral action if the Security Council fails to respond. The death toll has risen to at least 72 civilians, including 20 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It’s not clear yet which chemical agent was used, but MSF International (a.k.a. Doctors Without Borders in the US) says its medical teams’ reports “strongly suggest that victims of the attack on Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to at least two different chemical agents.” Patients’ symptoms “are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds,” but victims also “smelled of bleach, suggesting they had been exposed to chlorine” as well. Rescue workers have collected soil samples and sent them to western intelligence officials to determine exactly what was used in the attack, the Guardian reports.

The attack raises several questions, which, tragically, Just Security has considered previously. Here is a selective sample of some of our earlier coverage on these issues, which is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Watch this space as we provide further analysis, especially the implications for the White House, for global norms at stake, and for the people of Syria.


Can the US legally use military force to stop Assad’s war crimes (International law)?

Syria and the Law of Humanitarian Intervention (Part II: International Law and the Way Forward) by Harold Hongju Koh

Humanitarian Intervention and Global Legal Norms by Ryan Goodman

Harold Koh’s Case for Humanitarian Intervention by David Kaye


Can the US legally use military force to stop Assad’s war crimes (Domestic Law)?

Syria and the Law of Humanitarian Intervention (Part I: Political Miscues and U.S. Law) by Harold Hongju Koh

Would Airstrikes Against Assad be Lawful and Effective?: Reactions to the State “Dissent Cable” by Ashley Deeks and Marty Lederman


Is it ethical for the US to use military force to stop Assad’s war crimes?

Will Syria Redefine the Just War? by David Luban


Why didn’t Syria’s signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention fail to stop chemical attacks?

It’s Time to do Something About Syria’s Other Chemical Weapons by Faiza Patel


How does international law apply to chemical weapons use in Syria?

Chemical Weapons Use Returns to Syria by Beth Van Schaack


Will the Assad regime face international criminal accountability?

The UN General Assembly’s Historic Resolution on Accountability for Syria: What It Means and What Are Its Limits by Alex Whiting

Does the U.N. General Assembly have the authority to establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Syria? by Derek Jinks


Image: Drew Angerer/Getty