The legal framing of the Egyptian military intervention in Libya

I never thought I would be writing about an Egyptian military intervention into another country in my day and time, but the dramatic changes and developments in the armed conflict in Libya has posed the question of whether Egypt’s role in this situation was legal or not. At the same time, the question of which doctrine of the international law Egypt can use to justify the Airstrikes on Da’esh is raised – whether the self-defense and or protecting citizens abroad or assisting another state.

On 15 February 2015, a video was released showing images of 21 kidnapped Coptic Egyptians being killed by a militant group declaring their loyalty to ISIS or Da’esh. As a response to this video, which I don’t think is appropriate to share; the Egyptian president announced a week of mourning over the victims and called for an urgent meeting with the National Defense Council. A few hours after the meeting, Egyptian Air forces launched strikes against militant targets and fighters of ISIS in Derna, Libya.6120938-3x2-940x627

These air strikes open the question again about the legality of the Egyptian Military intervention inside the Libyan territory especially after the different statements from the President Sisi and the Foreign Affairs Minister in UN Security Council meeting.

The historic background of the Libyan situation is significant in this context. Libya today has divided into a violent political struggle between two major powers: the internationally recognized, Tabruk parliament and Tripoli’s parliament. The Islamist groups cooperated with Misrata’s forces to stage a counterattack in Tripoli and occupy the capital. This forced the newly elected parliament into exile to Tabruk to be under the protection of general Haftar.

Alongside with this political struggle and declining situation, in June 2014, the jihadist group Majilis Shura Shabab Al-Islam (the Islamic Youth Shura Council) in Derna announced its allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A few months later, the organized militant group in Egypt, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which continually attacked the governmental buildings and military bases, also announced its allegiance to ISIS and changed its name into Wilayet Sinai or the Sinai State. This link between the groups increases the suspicion of cooperation between the two groups and increases military operations against the Egyptian government and Army.

The use of language

A few hours, after the president Abd El-Fatah El-Sisi’s speech on the killing of 21 Christian Egyptian in Derna by militant group loyal to ISIS, Egyptian Air forces launched strikes against militant targets and fighters of ISIS in Derna, Libya.

2015-635596428048984075-898The Egyptian citizens reacted to the video of the killings with significant anger and asked for revenge and reprisal attacks. During his speech president Sisi used the word “the right of response” to the killing of the Egyptians in Libya. Also, the ministry of Foreign affairs issued a statement after the airstrike stating that the airstrikes were under legitimate right of states of self-defense individually or collectively and its right to protect its citizens abroad. The linguistics used in both statements refers to framing the airstrikes towards the Egyptian citizens and protecting the citizens. The president statement directed to the citizens, and to settle down the anger of the citizens, but at the same time, statements like revenge or reprisal are not appropriate to be used in the international law context.

Therefore, framing the argument and defense of the attack through “the right of response” is to legitimate the illegitimate act.

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A few days later, the weakness of the doctrine of the right of response and the excuse of protecting of citizens abroad which had been used by the president and the ministry of foreign affairs was clear. The use of this doctrine in international law is rare and is not preferred. Therefore, during the UNSC urgent meeting in relation to the situation in Libya, the Foreign Affairs Minister instead commented on the Egyptian airstrike in Libya by using a different argument for the strikes, by stating “Egypt has decided to respond to the requests and needs of the Government of Libya and has provided military assistance”. The Foreign Affairs Minister’s statement framed the airstrikes as assisting the Libyan government in the war against terror after asking for help as part of consensual intervention, as the coordination and assistance of another country is not a violation against international law. Therefore, Egypt’s strikes over the Libyan territories were not in contradiction of the United Nations charter and customary international law. This new statement is directed to the international community, thus the language used must be the most appropriate to be accepted in doctrine and according to international law.

The word and framing used is important in international law and in strengthening the legitimacy of the Egyptian airstrikes in Libya. The justification of airstrikes based on the self-defense and/or protecting civilians abroad arguments or the right of response are weak in international law in comparison to the argument of the assistance of another country in the war against terrorism. The president used the phrase right of response to comment on the killing of Egyptians in Libya because he was directing the statement to Egyptian citizens while the Minister of Foreign Affairs could not use a weak legal argument in his speech to the international community justifying the airstrikes. Therefore, he used the argument of state requesting assistance of another state. The linguistics used by the president and foreign affairs minister differ because each one of them is talking to a different audience. Framing and language of law is just as important domestically as it is internationally.

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Is the Principle of Negative Equality in Civil Wars Still Valid? An Analysis of “Decisive storm” Under the Law of Armed Conflict

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29293849
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29293849

Although the beginnings of the Arab Spring’s revolutions might seem similar, their evolutions are totally different; the Yemeni revolution is no exception. The situation in Yemen has recently evolved dramatically, leaving the state in a civil war. This leaves limited choices for the legitimate Yemeni president Hadi to seek foreign assistance. Based on the invitation by President Hadi, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition constituted of ten Arab states launched a military operation against the Houthi rebels known as “Decisive Storm”. Although the traditional “negative equality” doctrine of international law prohibits intervention in civil wars on either side of the parties, I argue in this post that there is no room for applying this principle in the Yemeni case for two reasons: first, I believe that the principle itself is no longer applicable in contemporary international law, second even if it is, the Yemeni case lacks the requirements for the application of this doctrine.

The principle of the prohibition of intervention in civil wars emerged in post Cold War era based on 1975 resolution of the Institute de Droit International (IDI), in an attempt to limit military interventions and the use of force by superpowers in internal conflicts and in order to guarantee self-determination. However, this previously mentioned resolution allows two exceptions, which are the provision of humanitarian aid in art (4) and the response to unlawful foreign intervention in art (5).

The principle of “negative equality” is no longer applicable

Recent state practice as analyzed by Dapo Akande & Zachary Vermeer here   breaks with the general rule of non-intervention in civil wars. This state practice indicates that third states can lawfully intervene alongside with governments with or without the latter’s consent in cases of terrorist attacks. Examples include the French intervention in Mali based on an invitation from the Malian president which was reflected under UN SC Resolution 2085 which affirmed that assisting Mail is based on respecting its sovereignty. Other  examples  are the US led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria backed by the Iraqi president’s invitation and the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 with no condemnation from the international community.

This practice has been further developed in cases that fit with the magnitude of human tragedy to fall under a broader concept of R2P without any invitation. Examples include the intervention in Iraq known as “Desert fox operation in 1998, Kosovo in 1998, Georgia in 2008, Libya in 2011, and the recent intervention in Iraq to rescue the Yazidis in 2014.

The principle of negative equality does not apply in Yemen.

The principle of negative equality lacks the basis for application in the case of Yemen. First, tracing the history of the principle and the reasons behind it proves that it is driven by the necessity to limit intervention by superpowers in order to pave the way for exercising self-determination by the opposition when they seek it. In addition, according to IDI Res 1975, if a foreign state unlawfully intervenes with the rebels, it allows a third state to lawfully intervene alongside with the government. Finally, the effective control test might not be the sole test for deciding the legitimacy for presidents in contemporary international law.

Self-determination

 

http://events.tru.ca/event/2014/international-seminar-indigenous-self-determination

http://events.tru.ca/event/2014/international-seminar-indigenous-self-determination

The principle of non intervention in civil wars is a purpose–based norm that seeks to guarantee peoples the right to exercise self determination as expressed in the UN Human Rights Covenants of 1966 and in GA resolution 2625 (XXV). In the context of civil war, peoples should have the right to choose their own governments without interference by third states, which was clear in the articulation of Art 1(a) of IDI Res 1975. According to the language of the article that describes rebels as “insurgent movements”, those rebels should be seeking self determination and to be supported by a significant part of the population, which was affirmed by M. Dietrich Schindler in his interim report presented at the IDI session in Rome in 1973:[1]

“..assistance to the established government in case of civil wars … is illegal … when the insurgents, without having received any substantial assistance from abroad, succeed in establishing their control over a significant part of the territory and are supported by a large part of the population” (translated from French, emphasis added).

In addition, Georg Nolte and Doswald-Beck argue that third state intervention, even by consent, is unlawful if it is against the expressed will of a significant part of the population such as in uprisings which meet the requirements of the right to self-determination. By applying these criteria to the Houthis, although that they have effective control over a significant part of the territory, they are not supported by a significant part of the Yemeni population which does not represent an exercise of self-determination. To illustrate, although the religious sect (Zaydi) which most the Houthis are affiliated to, represent about one third of the Yemeni population, not all the Zaydis are supporting the Hountis.

Counter- intervention

http://www.islamicinvitationturkey.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Irans-military-drill.jpg
http://www.islamicinvitationturkey.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Irans-military-drill.jpg

 

One of the exceptions to the non-intervention in civil wars principle is the case of counter intervention as expressed in Art(5) of IDI Res 1975. To illustrate, if a foreign state intervenes on the side of the rebels in any of the ways expressed by the resolution which vary from military to financial to economic support, this gives third states the right to intervene on the side of the government. Therefore, the Iranian arming of the Houthis is considered unlawful intervention according to the ICJ judgment in Nicragua Case where the court considered arming the rebels as unlawful intervention. In addition, according to Hojatoleslam(a Shiite clerical rank just below that of Ayatollah and a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)), Yemen has become an area of their territorial hegemony, which was later affirmed by Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign affairs adviser to Khamenei(and was further analyzed by Aliaa Makady here in this blog). In addition, there is a Yemeni evidence- based claim affirmed by Reuter’s investigations of the Iranian support to the Houthis with no official declared denial from Iran. Therefore, this triggers the lawful right of the Yemeni government to seek assistance from third states, which is what happened in the “Decisive Storm” operation by the Saudi Arabian led coalition.

Invitation by the president

After the adoption of the United Nations Charter, there has been a debate concerning the legality of intervention by invitation. Christine Gray, argues in her book “International Law and the Use of Force” that consent by the government does not legalize state intervention in a civil war with two exceptions either UNSC authorization or a counter intervention.On the other hand, Yoram Dinstein’s argument is that state practice, such as the French intervention in Mali or US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria proves that consent by the government may legalize intervention. This position was affirmed by ICJ in the Nicaragua Case:

“…it is difficult to see what would remain of the principle of non-intervention in international law if intervention, which is already allowable at the request of the government of a State, were also to be allowed at the request of the opposition.”

Furthermore, there has been a debate over the existence of “effective control” standard over Yemen by the president Hadi in order to determine his capacity to consent for intervention. State practice shows that this standard is not always decisive; there are some cases in which the international community disregarded territorial effectiveness and replaced it with accepting the internationally recognized governments, such as Somalia and Libya.

To sum up, the situation in Yemen reached the edge of a civil war and the threshold of a human tragedy. However, there is no room for applying the principle of non- intervention in civil wars because state practice in the contemporary international law showed that it is no longer applicable. Second, even if we were to assume that this principle is still valid, there are three reasons to disqualify its application in the case of Yemen: first the “Decisive Storm” operation falls under a counter-intervention in response to Iran’s prior intervention on the side of the Houthi rebels. Second, the Houthis lack support by the Yemeni people, so there is no room for a claim of self determination, and finally, the effective control standard is no more the sole determinant of the legitimacy of presidents in having the capacity to consent to foreign interventions.

[1]IDI Year book, 468, 1973.

Egypt’s Military Assistance to the Libyan Government: Legal or not?!

download In the midst of the chaos of the Arab Spring, there have been multiple uses of military force in the internal conflicts by third state parties. Some of these interventions raise questions about their legality according to the international law on the use of force. According to the traditional doctrine in international law, there are only two exceptions to the ban of threat or use of force between states. The first of these two exceptions is the collective use of force by the willing state members according to article 42 of the U.N. Charter in chapter VII, which is under the measures taken by the Security Council. The second exception is the inherent right of self defense according to article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Nowadays, it seems that this classical restrictive view is changing, as there is a third exception on the rise among state practice and supported by the I.C.J jurisprudence. This exception is related to the foreign military intervention by the invitation or consent of the government. It is usually referred to by international lawyers and legal scholars as intervention by invitation. The problem with this new practice is the case of civil war, which raises the question of which government has the authority to consent. There is also the question of the threshold that classifies internal conflicts into civil war and whether or not intervention is allowed in civil wars even with the consent of one of the parties.

-The argument of Consensual Intervention was used by the Egyptian government to justify the air strikes against ISIS militia in Libya. While it is clear that these strikes were a reprisal for the horrific murder of the 21 Egyptian Copts, the use of this argument was necessary due to the lack of legal justification for acts of reprisal against terrorism in international law. One of the bases of the Consensual Intervention argument is article 3 (e) of the G.A. Resolution 3314 on the definition of aggression which construes the following as an act of aggression: “The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement .” This clarifies that the uses of armed forces in that case which do not contradict the agreement with the receiving state are legal. Further support for this argument is found in article 20 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility which states: “Valid consent by a State to the commission of a given act by another State precludes the wrongfulness of that act in relation to the former State to the extent that the act remains within the limits of that consent.”

-The problem is, when there are internal armed conflicts, which of the parties has the capacity to give consent? Or does the consent of any of the parties hold any legal value in the first place? Eliav Lieblich in his paper, “Intervention in Civil Wars; Intervention and Consent” discusses these issues. He argues against the traditional view that rejects foreign military intervention during internal armed conflict. According to this view there should be no intervention during internal armed conflicts as all parties to the conflict have lost their capacity to represent the state and therefore do not have the capacity to give consent to foreign military intervention. Lieblich’s article describes how the I.C.J adopts the view that when the intervention is in favor of the government, it is not unlawful. The I.C.J ruling in the Nicaragua Case clarified the court’s opinion supporting the legality of intervention in favor of the government as it stated:

It is difficult to see what would remain of the principle of non-intervention in international law if intervention, which is already allowable at the request of the government of a State, were also to be allowed at the request of the opposition. This would permit any State to intervene at any moment in the internal affairs of another State, whether at the request of the government or at the request of its opposition. Such a situation does not in the Court’s view correspond to the present state of international law. 

This has also been reaffirmed by in the court’s ruling in the D.R.C v. Uganda case.

-In the case of the Egyptian air strikes in Libya, there seems to be a new lenient doctrine being adopted by the international community. This new doctrine is largely a result of the ongoing ‘War on Terror’. In Libya there are supposedly two governments plus the ISIS militia groups. The one which is mostly recognized by the international community is the government of Haftar, which is the one that supposedly requested or consented to the Egyptian air strikes. This government does not actually possess effective control over the whole Libyan territory, but the other groups controlling the rest of Libya’s territory are either terrorist groups themselves, like ISIS, or affiliated with terrorist activities. For that reason the whole effective control principle is being abandoned.

-Although this new state practice might be helpful in fighting a rogue terrorist organization, it also opens the way for the misuse of force and intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states in future situations. This is especially true when there are interests to powerful states recognizing one of the parties to an internal armed conflict in order to be able to take forcible measures. This could also lead to bigger armed conflicts when there is a conflict of interests between powerful states each recognizing one of the parties, replaying Cold War scenarios.

-The Egyptian air strikes in Libya clarify a growing problem with international law. The problem is that the international community needs to further democratize its institutions to cure its ineffectiveness while facing the growing threats to international peace and security. The unilateral use of force should still be an exception, but with the uselessness of attempting to resort to collective measures of the Security Council, unilateral use of force could transform into the norm, which destroys the whole purpose of the United Nations in trying to preserve peace and security in the world.