On the [il]legality of a military intervention in Syria

Since reports started coming out that the Syrian army was using chemical weapons, it’s becoming increasingly likely that there will be some kind of military intervention in Syria by the US, with support from the UK and France, maybe as soon as tomorrow (Thursday). For some background on the alleged chemical attacks and the on-going situation, the BBC has a good overview here. There is also a very useful article outlining military options.

I won’t reiterate what is being said very eloquently elsewhere, so instead, here’s a round-up of various analyses of the legality (or illegality) of a potential military/humanitarian intervention in Syria by the US, the UK and/or France, without UN Security Council approval.

The Legality of a Syrian Military Intervention: Russia, France, and the UK Weigh In” – post by Julian Ku on Opinio Juris

It sounds like the UK and France are both going to need to come up with some international law theory to justify their support for an attack, and the UK seems interested in the “humanitarian intervention” justification.  If the U.S. goes along with this, it would be interesting to see if the “invisible college of international lawyers” will endorse this legal theory.

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CAR gets brand-new AU peacekeeping mission, no one cares

Two days ago, on August 14, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss the on-going situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) – which is just getting worse and worse, without anyone paying any attention. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in her briefing to the UNSC, describes the overall situation as follows:

The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken […] If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges.

For those unfamiliar with the African continent, CAR is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon – none of which can really afford to have CAR’s conflict spreading across their borders. And within the country, the situation is pretty dire:

All 4.6 million Central Africans had been affected by the crisis and 1.6 million people were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter, [Amos] said.  More than 206,000 people had been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  Many people continued to hide in the bush and remote areas in poor sanitary conditions and without access to basic services or clean water.

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French Parliament votes to extend Mali mission

Yesterday, Monday April 22nd, 2013, the French Parliament voted to extend the French military mission in Mali, Operation Serval. Under Article 35 of the French Constitution, the government is required to submit requests to extend military interventions beyond four months to the Parliament, which then votes on the request. The Senate voted in favor 326 to 0 and the National Assembly, 342 to 0.

As part of the debate in the Senate, a report, dated April 16th, prepared by Jean-Pierre Chevenement and Gérard Larcher on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was introduced into the record. The 135-page report (which is only available in French as far as I can tell) argues that a continued French military presence in Mali is necessary for the time being, based on a number of concerns:

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CAR unlikely to be a new battlefield between France and South Africa

In early January, an IRIN analytical piece reported that South Africa’s deployment of South African National Defense Forces (SANDF) troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) was seen by some “not simply as an effort to assist CAR’s army but also as a move to counter French military influence in the region.” South Africa’s involvement in CAR, the argument goes, is part of South Africa’s intention of supporting “African solutions to African problems.”

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The situation in CAR in regional and historical context

For a few days now, worrying reports have come out of the Central African Republic (CAR) regarding advances by rebels. With substantial interests in the stability of the CAR (see more below), France called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, March 20th. In a statement issued the same day, the UN Security Council closed with the following:

The members of the Security Council expressed serious concerns at reports of human rights violations and abuses, in particular reports on the targeting of persons belonging to ethnic minorities and illegal detentions, and at the continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and sexual and gender-based violence.  They emphasized that such activities must cease immediately and that those responsible for such violations and abuses should be held accountable.

At the time of writing, reports are coming in that the rebels – known as the Seleka rebel coalition – have entered Bangui, the capital, last night (Saturday), after fighting with Chadian and South African troops, and may have even taken the Presidential palace. It is also being reported that France has sent an additional 150 troops to help keep control over the airport in Bangui, where 250 troops were already stationed.

While I’m not an expert of the Seleka rebel coalition – and there are plenty of news stories and analytical pieces floating around that can explain it very well – I thought it would be interesting to discuss the regional and historical context (see below) for CAR’s current predicament, as well as clarify some of the military aspects which are being referenced to. A lot of the news pieces I’ve seen so far seem to say a lot, without going into details and I find them quite confusing. So here we go.

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Boko Haram: getting involved beyond Francophone Africa?

On February 19th, a French family of 7 was kidnapped in the north of Cameroon, by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. The case has drawn a significant amount of international attention and the French, Cameroonian and Nigerian governments are all taking active steps towards finding them. The fact that 4 of the 7 are children is certainly putting the pressure on.

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius is off to Nigeria and Cameroon this week to meet with both presidents (I can’t find the official itinerary on the Ministry’s website but he tweeted it last week). So here’s a bit of background/personal analysis.

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From my friends over at La Jeune Politique – very interesting article on the French-Qatar relationship and how Qatar may be supporting Islamists in Mali, all the while conducting joint military exercises with France.

La Jeune Politique

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Qatar February 10 for a brief visit of less than twenty-four hours, just a week after President Hollande visited Mali. France’s recent and heightened military intervention in Mali has drawn criticism from Qatar, and Le Drian met with the Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on behalf of President Hollande to discuss the conflict.

One of the products of the meeting is “Falcon Gulf 2013,” an agreement whereby French military from every branch will journey to Qatar for a joint exercise, which began this past Saturday and will run through the first week of March. According to the French Defense website, “the objectives of integration are ambitious, as all the levels (operational and tactical)” will participate. This joint exercise symbolizes a reinforcement of the relationship between the nations.

The exercise comes at a tenuous time in the French-Qatar relationship. Suspicions…

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France & Mali: old friends?

There’s been little discussion of French-Mali relations prior to the current conflict (by that I mean the past few months …) so I figured this might make for a good first post. This is a really brief overview and not an in-depth analysis but I do think it is useful to put things into perspective.

A little bit of background …

First a few facts. Mali gained independence from France in 1960. Early relations between France and Mali are often discussed in the context of Mali’s 1962 decision to opt out of the Franc Zone (a cornerstone of France’s post-colonial policy in Africa – more on that in a later post, I promise), which is seen by some to have engendered many of the country’s subsequent economic and financial difficulties. This was in large part due to post-independence President Modibo Keita’s socialist-leaning economic policy. Mali signed on the Franc Zone later, in 1967, but under an agreement that saw the Malian franc devalued by 50%. Full integration of Mali into the UEMOA (Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine, “West African Economic and Monetary Union”) did not happen until 1984.

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