Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What international law?

"The constraints imposed on Libyan forces are similarly radical and far-reaching, going well beyond the obligations imposed by general international law on governments responding to insurgencies. The resolution demands ‘the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence’, and bans all flights in Libyan airspace unless their sole purpose is ‘humanitarian’. If the expansive authority granted to international forces and the novel obligations imposed on Libya by Resolution 1973 are sanctioned by international law, what kind of law is this? And does it deserve our fidelity?

Resolution 1973 is the latest stage in a political experiment stretching back to the mid-1950s, when the UN and other international actors began to develop and systematise new forms of international executive action designed to fill what they saw as the ‘political vacuum’ emerging in the Middle East and Africa as a result of decolonisation. In claiming the political authority to take executive action independent of the interests of Great Powers, Dag Hammarskjöld challenged other 20th century visions of world order, such as those projected by Britain and France at Suez or Belgium in the Congo. The effect has been to create a long-term policing and managerial role for the UN in the decolonised world.
The idea that the Security Council might have jurisdiction to manage the conduct of a civil war has slowly taken shape, as international lawyers have loyally interpreted the UN Charter in ways that have authorised the new roles adopted by the Security Council, the Secretary-General and the Secretariat. There is little in the Charter that suggests its authors envisaged the creation of a powerful international executive that could undertake such wide-ranging forms of police action as fact-finding, peacekeeping or territorial administration. But this has never been treated as a constraint on UN involvement in such activity. Instead, generations of UN officials and international lawyers have argued that the UN and its organs must be deemed to have whatever powers are necessary to perform their functions. Over time, as the powers considered necessary for maintaining peace and security have been interpreted ever more broadly, an expansive apparatus of international rule has been established." (thanks Laleh)