Sunday, February 27, 2011

War Crime: UN Peacekeepers Attacked in Côte d'Ivoire

Three United Nations peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire were wounded in an ambush in Abobo, a suburb of Abidjan, the country's commercial capital.  They were wounded in an ambush by members of the "Young Patriots," the name given to forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the outgoing president who refuses to recognize that he lost the election last year to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

The UN peacekeeping force said the escalation of violence against the peacekeepers and their assets has been fuelled by propaganda, based on untruths against the mission by Mr. Gbagbo's camp.  The UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire issued a statement that "under international conventions, any attack against UN peacekeepers constitutes a war crime."

(adapted from a UN Press release)


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What legal advise did the UN Mission have? It is simply not true that any attack against UN peacekeepers is necessarily a war crime. Firs of all, quite obviously not every situation amounts to an armed conflict and second, peacekeepers are not necessarily always immune from attack. If they participate directly in hostilities, they loose protection under IHL (for the time of their direct participation) and they may lawfully be attacked in a situation of armed conflict, like it or not. A savings clause in the Convention on the Safety of UN and associated Personnel makes clear that the applicability of IHL is not affected by the Convention and the Rome Statute of the ICC confirms that attacking peacekeepers is only a war crime as long as peacekeepers are civilians, i.e. as long as they do not directly take part in hostilities.
Of course, it is well possible that the patrolling members of UNOCI did enjoy protection as civilians. But the statement of the mission is overly broad and does the peacekeepers no service. It gives the wrong impression that peace operations can act under international law as they see fit. I hope the peacekeepers are not seriously wounded and let's hope the situation in Ivory Coast quickly gets better.

Posted by: E.S. | Feb 27, 2011 11:38:18 AM

I would like to read about the constitutional history of Cote d'Ivoire, especially provisions that set forth police powers and also constrain them. Can someone point me to a good paper or article?

Posted by: Cliff Karchmer | Apr 26, 2011 5:20:08 PM

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