Effective control over a territory is one of the most basic requirements of statehood under international law. And effective control is what the government of C?te d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) was trying to secure when the army launched a surprise attack on rebel positions on Nov. 4. Just for the record, all three U.N. Security Council resolutions on C?te d’Ivoire issued this year (1527, 1528, and 1572) clearly affirm the council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of C?te d’Ivoire.”
No one really knows what happened, but a while later France launched a strike against the army and destroyed the country’s entire air force, claiming that nine French soldiers died during the Ivorian government’s raid.
It’s true that the use of force for self-defense is permissible under customary international law. Here, however, France hasn’t been very convincing. For one thing, no one to this date has seen photos of the nine soldiers allegedly killed. For another thing, even if such human loss did occur, whether the government intended it or not under the proportionality principle (which governs armed reprisals), France’s right to retaliate certainly does not extend to the destruction of C?te d’Ivoire’s entire air force, including landed aircraft. The French could have shot down the planes directly involved in the alleged attack on their positions (and then formally protest to the Ivorian government), but in no way were they in the right to engage in the kind of belligerence they demonstrated to the point of seizing Abidjan International Airport.
The promptness of their (re-)action and the extent of the damage and chaos that ensued cast serious doubts as to their real agenda.
What we know is that at this very moment, serious human rights violations are occurring in Sudan’s Darfur region. Yet none of the three Security Council resolutions issued on Sudan (1547, 1556, and 1564) uses the kind of tough language that France inserted in Resolution 1572.
If France really cared about Africans, where was it when the Security Council itself expressed “grave concern at the ongoing humanitarian crisis and widespread human rights violations” in a context of “rapes, forced displacements, and acts of violence with an ethnic dimension” in Sudan? (Resolution 1556, July 30)
How come Paris did not ask for military intervention when the council deplored “cross-border incursions by Janjaweed militias of the Darfur region into Chad?” (Resolution 1556, which makes it a clear threat to international peace and security.)
In a final resort, while the Security Council decided, for C?te d’Ivoire, to send 6,240 U.N. personnel (Resolution 1528, Feb. 27) with, on top of it all, a 13-month arms embargo (Resolution 1572), the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Sudan (Resolution 1556) receives mere scolding, with only a “special political mission” to help solve the crisis. No embargo, no troops.
In light of all the doubts surrounding French neutrality in C?te d’Ivoire, it becomes necessary for France to hand over the situation to ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) troops (ECOWAS Monitoring Observer Group) so that we could truly seek “an African solution to African problems” under Article 22 of the 1999 ECOWAS Protocol.
Francois Gouahinga is a senior in the School of International Service and an executive board member in the African Student Organization.