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The EU arms embargo against Syria followed by a dozen countries. What about “defections”?

(BRUSSELS2) Several European states - candidates or not for European Union membership - have adopted measures similar to those taken by the European Union in July, mainly aimed at strengthening the arms embargo with controls at ports.

Ten countries have adopted such measures today, according to the European Diplomatic Service (EEAS): Croatia, Arym/Fyrom (Macedonia), Montenegro, Iceland and Serbia (all candidate countries), Albania, Liechtenstein, Norway, Moldova and Georgia. We can notice a big absence on this list: Turkey. Which exempts it from respecting the arms embargo in this way. Very useful in more than one way. We know that it is – largely – through the Turkish border that weapons pass to the Syrian rebellion. And to prohibit the passage of certain people would be to prohibit “defections”…

EU blacklist…and the “deserters”?

The EU blacklist risks soon being exceeded at the rate of desertions or arrivals in the regime. Beyond the aspect of the phenomenon which could soon no longer be anecdotal, a question arises that is both legal and political. Can we make an exception to this “black list” if a person defects? This exception is not expressly provided for, according to a lawyer consulted by B2, and if we read the Council's decisions carefully. Three series of exceptions are, in fact, provided for to the visa ban: obligation under international law (when the State is the headquarters of a UN organization), participation in intergovernmental or European meetings (EU, OSCE…) which aim for democratic dialogue and “urgent humanitarian reasons”.

This last reason could be applied. But we would then be in a very extensive notion of the “humanitarian order” and closer to the “right of asylum”. Paradoxically, this is not expressly targeted but we can also consider that as an obligation under international law, it is imposed despite everything and that no exception can be made to the right of asylum. In all cases, when a Member State authorizes a derogation from a European decision, it must notify this decision to the Council. If the procedure is respected, the “exemptions” bin at the Council should soon be full… :)

Comment: one could consider that expressly providing for such an exception would be as important a political gesture for the European Union as the sanctions themselves. But States are generally reluctant to encourage, in writing, what must be called “desertion”, especially when it concerns military, police or state officials. The term being loaded with a negative connotation, we use the term “defection” more.

Read also: The 27 strengthen their arms embargo on Syria

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).