Legality of West’s action By Robert Booth - Wednesday 30th March 2011

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CONCERN over the legality of the military action in Libya reignited on Monday as rebel forces surged into the space created by the international bombardment of Col Qadhafi’s military.
Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at University College London, warned that coalition forces were facing a “major problem” to justify their latest strikes on legal grounds and Lord Ashdown, the former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the coalition forces led by Britain, France and the US were facing “a moment of danger” over the legality of their actions. He said “continued support for this looks as though it is leading to support for regime change, which legally is beyond the [United Nations] Security Council resolution”.
Legal experts said the international coalition may have overstepped what was agreed by the UN resolution sanctioning military action to “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. Prof Nicholas Grief, director of legal studies at the University of Kent, said it was possible there could be an attempt to bring the matter before the International Court of Justice. Others said the coalition forces were within the bounds of legality and could continue to attack Qadhafi’s military positions as long as they posed any future threat to civilian populations.
Concern grew as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said he believed the military action was now in breach of international law. “We consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the UN Security Council resolution,” he said. Russia abstained from the vote which resulted in resolution 1973.
The UK insisted the strikes remained legal. “The UN resolution’s point of ensuring that civilians could be protected allows the international coalition to take action against those who are threatening civilians,” said Alistair Burt, Foreign Office minister. “The Qadhafi forces have been threatening civilians through the advance of their military machine. In order for that threat to be lifted, action has been taken as we have seen.”
But Sands said it was becoming increasingly hard to justify the strikes on the Libyan leader’s forces as pre-emptive.
“The resolution is concerned with the protection of civilians, so a military attack on Qadhafi’s retreating forces could only be justified if it could be shown to be related to that objective,” he said.
His concern was echoed by Grief, who said the latest strikes provided evidence the coalition had taken sides.
— The Guardian, London

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