University of Southern California

The Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: Moving Toward Jus Cogens Status

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Article by Charles Hyun
From Volume 88, Number 6 (September, 2015)

While the use of chemical weapons during the Syrian Civil War has once again brought chemical weapons use to the forefront of public discourse, the prohibition of chemical weapons use goes as far back as 1685, when French and German armies agreed “that no side should use poisoned bullets.” At the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, Germany, France, England, the United States, and other nations formally agreed to regulate chemical weapons use by banning the use of poison gas. Unfortunately, these agreements were not respected during World War I, and the use of chemical weapons caused 1.3 million casualties. Since then, there have been several other notable uses of chemical weapons—Japan used poison gas against the Chinese in the 1930s, Mussolini used them in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) during World War II, the Egyptian Air Force used them in Yemen in 1967, and the United States used Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Perhaps the most horrific use of chemical weapons occurred in 1988 when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used mustard gas and nerve gas on a Kurdish town in northern Iraq, “killing 5,000 people almost immediately.”

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