Antonios Tzanakopoulos is Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Glasgow.
In this post I analyse the legal basis for the current use of force by the UN and France in Côte d’Ivoire, examining how that use of force impacts the status and exceptions of the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter and in customary law. In particular, I want to discuss the scope of the authorizations by the UN Security Council to use force, comparing the situation in Côte d’Ivoire with the on-going situation in Libya. The similarity between the two cases is more obvious than has been observed, as in both cases the UN has authorized the use of force in order to protect civilians, and in both cases those authorised by the Security Council to use force have directed that force against one side in an ongoing civil war, including targeting buildings belonging to the leader of that side who claims to be head of State (Col. Gaddafi & Laurent Gbagbo, see here and here). In both cases, questions have arisen as to the scope of the mandate and to whether recent uses of force overstep that mandate (see here with regard to Côte d’Ivoire).
I. The History of the Conflict in Côte d’Ivoire
Côte d’Ivoire has been in a state of turmoil since an attempted coup led to the country being split into southern areas, controlled by the government, and northern areas, controlled by rebels, in 2002. At the time, France used force in Côte d’Ivoire, allegedly to protect its nationals in the country, but was accused by both the government and the insurgents as taking sides (BBC). An eventual cease-fire in 2003 proved to be fragile, with the rebels refusing to disarm, and the French intervening in response to government attacks on French troops stationed in Côte d’Ivoire in 2004. ECOWAS, AU, and UN efforts facilitated an agreement between the factions, and elections were scheduled to take place in 2005 (see SCRs 1464  and 1479 ). These kept being postponed due to the precarious security, but were finally held in November 2010.
Ouattara, Gbagbo’s rival, won the very close election, the results of which were certified by the UN (see SCR 1765  para 6), and accepted by the EU, the AU, ECOWAS, and most States that cared to form an opinion (with the notable exception of Angola and Lebanon). However, Gbagbo refused to accept defeat (see for further background Jean d’Aspremont’s excellent post). In the aftermath of the election, both leaders were inaugurated in separate ceremonies, and claimed to be the President of Côte d’Ivoire. Since there seemed to be no forthcoming solution in the impasse, the AU gave Gbagbo an ultimatum, inviting him to hand over power to Ouattara by 24 March, while the EU, the US, and ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire, a move welcomed by the UN Security Council (see SCR 1962  preamble). When the ultimatum expired with Gbagbo still refusing to leave, pro-Ouattara forces marched from their strongholds in the north towards Abidjan to seize power by force. They are now in Abidjan, having taken over most of the rest of the country, and are laying siege to the Presidential compound, where Gbagbo has taken refuge. Read the rest of this entry…