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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  Security Council, failure of the UN to act permits action to be taken by others (Holzgrefe 2003). Proponents of humanitarian intervention point to Article 39 of the Charter, which authorizes the Security Council to use force in response to “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression.” With an emphasis on the fact that no specific kind of threat is indicated, Article 39 may be widely interpreted to include human rights violations as a threat to peace. UN interventions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Haiti all “support the contention that the Security Council presently believes it is empowered under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to authorize the use of military force to end massive human rights abuses” (Holzgrefe 2003, 41). The second source of guidance on this issue comes from human rights conventions. The majority of states are signatories to various treaties in which they promise to respect human rights. Yet, as Donnelly argues, the fact that states are signatories “does not imply that any international actor is authorized to implement or enforce those obligations” (in Holzgrefe 2003, 44). In fact, even the Genocide Convention defers authorization for genocide prevention to the United Nations. Finally, legal justification for humanitarian intervention may be found in customary international law, the idea that there are universal principles which are undisputable. These principles are informal, unwritten rules that are binding upon states as a consequence of their use in practice. Customary practice would tend to undermine rather than support legal justification for humanitarian intervention; repeated instances of humanitarian crises indicate that the international community does not feel legally compelled to intervene, but rather supports states’ right to sovereignty. However, should humanitarian intervention continue to take place, a perception of such intervention as “customary” could conceivably develop. Humanitarian Intervention in Sierra Leone As in Kosovo, humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone was carried out by a regional organization rather than by the United Nations. The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) is a multilateral armed force established by the regional organization the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOMOG became involved in Sierra Leone in 1997 in order to control conflict following a coup. A Cease-fire Monitoring Group comprised mostly of Nigerians was authorized to maintain law and order and to attempt to reverse the coup (Avant 2005). In February 1998, ECOMOG’s mandate was upgraded to actual military intervention. ECOMOG did engage in direct attacks against the Sierra Leone rebels. 15 In 1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in their annual World Report that ECOMOG’s shelling of Freetown had resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. ECOMOG was also assisted by the private security company Sandline, which had been hired by the government of Sierra Leone (see Lesson 2). The 2000 HRW world report states: In January l999, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched an offensive against the capital Freetown, capturing it from government troops and soldiers from the Nigerian-led peacekeeping troops 15 See: “Africa Ecomog attacks Sierra Leone rebels,” 1/4/1999, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/247756.stm 13

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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Security Council, failure of the UN to act permits action to be taken by others (Holzgrefe
2003).
Proponents of humanitarian intervention point to Article 39 of the Charter, which
authorizes the Security Council to use force in response to “any threat to the peace,
breach of the peace or act of aggression.” With an emphasis on the fact that no specific
kind
of threat is indicated, Article 39 may be widely interpreted to include human rights
violations as a threat to peace. UN interventions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Haiti all
“support the contention that the Security Council presently believes it is empowered
under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to authorize the use of military force to end massive
human rights abuses” (Holzgrefe 2003, 41).
The second source of guidance on this issue comes from human rights
conventions. The majority of states are signatories to various treaties in which they
promise to respect human rights. Yet, as Donnelly argues, the fact that states are
signatories “does not imply that any international actor is authorized to implement or
enforce those obligations” (in Holzgrefe 2003, 44). In fact, even the Genocide
Convention defers authorization for genocide prevention to the United Nations.
Finally, legal justification for humanitarian intervention may be found in
customary international law, the idea that there are universal principles which are
undisputable. These principles are informal, unwritten rules that are binding upon states
as a consequence of their use in practice. Customary practice would tend to undermine
rather than support legal justification for humanitarian intervention; repeated instances of
humanitarian crises indicate that the international community does not feel legally
compelled to intervene, but rather supports states’ right to sovereignty. However, should
humanitarian intervention continue to take place, a perception of such intervention as
“customary” could conceivably develop.
Humanitarian Intervention in Sierra Leone
As in Kosovo, humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone was carried out by a regional
organization
rather than by the United Nations. The Economic Community of West
African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) is a multilateral armed force established
by the regional organization the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS). ECOMOG became involved in Sierra Leone in 1997 in order to control
conflict following a coup. A Cease-fire Monitoring Group comprised mostly of
Nigerians was authorized to maintain law and order and to attempt to reverse the coup
(Avant 2005). In February 1998, ECOMOG’s mandate was upgraded to actual military
intervention. ECOMOG did engage in direct attacks against the Sierra Leone rebels.
1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in their annual World Report that ECOMOG’s
shelling of Freetown had resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. ECOMOG
was also assisted by the private security company Sandline, which had been hired by the
government of Sierra Leone (see Lesson 2). The 2000 HRW world report states:
In January l999, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)
launched an offensive against the capital Freetown, capturing it from
government troops and soldiers from the Nigerian-led peacekeeping troops
15
See: “Africa Ecomog attacks Sierra Leone rebels,” 1/4/1999, available at:
13


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