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Message To Syria: You Can't Use Chemical Weapons On Foreigners, Either

Headlines today about one of the latest statements from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad have tended to focus on the news that a spokesman says the government would never use chemical or biological weapons against its own people.

The stories take two angles: One, that this confirms Syria has such weapons; two, that it's good the regime says it won't use them on civilians.

Of course, the regime has also pledged to abide by a ceasefire brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and in the ensuing weeks the bloodshed in Syria has continued.

But beyond that, there's this: By threatening instead to use its chemical or biological weapons against "external aggression," the regime is still going up against "customary international humanitarian law." This may sound obvious, but countries aren't supposed to use such weapons. Check this passage from the International Committee of the Red Cross:

"According to customary international humanitarian law which is binding on all States and on all parties to an armed conflict, the use of biological and chemical weapons is prohibited.

"This norm is based on the ancient taboo against the use in war of 'plague and poison,' which has been passed down for generations in diverse cultures. It was most recently codified in the 1925 Geneva Protocol and subsequently in the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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