10 April 2011

An “unlikely scenario” that occurred in Ivory Coast… And a case for shared responsibility between the UN and France

In follow-up to Security Council Resolution 1975, and in response to recent attacks against civilians and the United Nations mission, the international forces in Ivory Coast recently launched operations against the Gbagbo camp. The “unusually robust” reaction seems to have been triggered by the attacks by the armed forces loyal to Gbagbo directed against the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) Headquarters. The impartiality of a UN operation directly targeting Gbagbo has been quickly questioned, but it can easily be shown that “the fact that Gbagbo’s troops attacked the UN justifies the punishing response”. These events prompt two questions of international law.


Self-defense in case of an attack against a UN Peacekeeping Mission

In an article recently published in the International Organizations Law Review, Paolo Palchetti analyzed an “unlikely scenario”, namely, the right to self-defense in case of an armed attack against a UN peacekeeping mission. Insisting on the well-known specific status of peacekeepers being part of an international force while still being an organ of its sending State, he demonstrates that the UN but also the contributing States have a right to self-defense.

The situation gets a bit more complex here because it is not the UNOCI that actually conducted most of the recent operations in reaction to the Gbagbo’s attacks. Rather, the French forces composing the Opération Licorne did so. Present in Ivory Coast since 2003, the Opération Licorne is distinct from the UNOCI and placed under French command. The French forces have a mandate (Resolution 1962 of 21 December 2010) to act in support of the UNOCI, and progressively evolved as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) able to deploy an operation very quickly. It is in this context that the Secretary General was able to call for help by the French forces in support of the UNOCI.

In case of such a deployment, the UN Commander is provisionally given tactical command (TACOM) over the QRF. This means that the UN commander can assign tasks to the French operation, while the French commander retains operational command and control (OPCOM and OPCON), ie the authority to direct and deploy the troops.

The argument of self-defense could be raised if the forces were accused to act beyond their mandate.


Shared Responsibility between the UN and France

In international military operations, the attribution of wrongful acts of primarily depends on the command and control arrangements between the actors involved. The UNOCI being under the command of the UN, its acts are presumably attributable to the UN under Article 6 DARIO, while shared attribution with the contributing State cannot be excluded in case of shared effective control. On the other hand, the acts of the French troops of Opération Licorne are presumably attributable to France, which holds command and control over them.

But in the case of the operations conducted by the UN and France this week, the question whether there is a case of shared responsibility deserves consideration.

It would be unconvincing to argue that effective control over the troops of Opération Licorne is shared amongst France and the UN. The TACOM granted to the UN Commander is not sufficient to attribute acts to the UN, as the French remains in full control of their forces.

What cannot be denied is that the operations were planned and conducted together. Troops of both forces were involved. It is thus arguable that the operations qualify as a joint action of the UN and France. A joint action perpetrated in whole by two or more co-authors is fully attributable to each of the co-author as an action of its own. In the case at hand, not only has the operation globally be constructed in concert by both, specific operations have actually be conducted together. Just today, helicopters of both forces fired at the residence of Gbagbo. Such operation certainly raises questions of responsibility, and the answer could well be that the responsibility is shared amongst the UN and France, to both of which possible breaches of international law will be attributable.

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