Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2015

Publication Title

Suffolk Transnational Law Review


Syria, refugee crisis, humanitarian intervention, international law, use of force, Iraq, customary law


The refugee crises in Iraq and Syria, which has been evolving over the past decade as a result of both ongoing conflict in these countries and the recent surge of Islamic State-led violence, has morphed into a true humanitarian catastrophe. Tens of thousands of refugees have been subjected to violence and have been dispersed and forced to live under dire conditions; such massive population flows have destabilized the entire region and have threatened the stability of neighboring countries. The United States and several other countries have been engaged in a military air strike campaign against the Islamic State, but the international community has otherwise not authorized a multilateral military action against the Islamic State in order to alleviate refugee and other humanitarian suffering.

This Article argues that in light of such a tremendous humanitarian crisis, reflected in the current refugee crisis, international law authorizes states to intervene through the paradigm of humanitarian intervention. The Article argues that if international law embraces the concept of humanitarian intervention as an evolving norm of customary law, then this norm encompasses intervention in situations of a humanitarian refugee crisis, such as the one that has unfolded in Iraq and Syria.