Editor’s Note: With NATO nations openly siding with rebel forces in Libya – including President Barack Obama’s commitment of armed Predator drones – the pretext of a humanitarian mission is giving way to the reality of a Western military force seeking violent regime change in North Africa.

Though this may please Washington’s neoconservative opinion leaders, it raises questions about whether the revised mission is a violation of international law, as Peter Dyer asks in this guest essay:

The humanitarian intervention to protect civilians in Libya’s civil war, authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, looks increasingly likely to expand into something quite different.

The three NATO powers leading this effort now openly advocate regime change.
 
On April 14, in their joint statement “Libya’s Pathway to Peace,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama wrote:

“It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. … Gaddafi must go and go for good.”

Though the leaders’ joint statement is getting a lot of attention, there hasn’t been much discussion of the legality of the action these men are advocating.

UNSC Resolution 1973 does not contemplate regime change. In fact regime change, imposed from outside, is against international law.

The United Nations Charter, Article 2(4) says: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama appear to be advocating a violation of the U.N. Charter. They may soon also be in violation of the Nuremberg Charter, Article 6(a) which forbids “participation in a common plan or conspiracy” for "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression."
 
An invasion of any country not authorized by the Security Council for the purpose of regime change would almost certainly constitute an act of aggression.

In 1946, high-ranking Nazis were brought to account at the first Nuremberg trial for their roles in World War II war crimes. The judgment described aggression as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 

Twenty-two of the most prominent surviving German leaders were put on trial. Seventeen were convicted, including eight who were convicted of aggression. Of these, five received death sentences.
 
A recent example of aggression was the American-led, unprovoked invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Iraq had neither harmed the U.S. nor presented an imminent threat of harm.

Unlike today in Libya, there was no talk then of intervention by an international military force to protect civilians from the onslaught of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

The documented Iraqi civilian death toll since the invasion is over 100,000. The war created over 3 million Iraqi refugees. To date, of course, neither President George W. Bush nor any of the other American leaders responsible have been held in any way accountable.

In this light, the April 14 statement by Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama gives rise to a question: is it more acceptable to massacre someone else’s people than to massacre your own?

Peter Dyer is a freelance journalist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at p.dyer@inspire.net.nz .                        

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