While the war against Libya is raging, another aggression possibly marking a new phase in the history of the international law is beginning to unfold. On April 5, the French forces launched an offensive supposed to lead to the seizure of Ivory Coast's legitimate president Laurent Gbagbo. According to some reports, encircled Gbagbo is negotiating the terms for his surrender, according to others – he brushed off as disinformation the claim that the power hand-over to his opponent Alassane Ouattara is on the horizon and continues to assert that he won the last Ivory Coast elections.
Notably,in the Ivory Coast – for the first time since 1961, the year Belgian troops under the UN flag killed Patrice Lumumba in Congo – the UN “peacekeepers” openly took a role in toppling a legitimate leader of a sovereign country.
The Western media echoed by Russian peers shower the audiences with allegations that Gbagbo lost the 2010 elections and should therefore step down. Their key argument – the head of the elections commission declared Ouattara the winner – ignores the fact that in the Ivory Coast it is up to the Constitutional Council, not the elections commission to decide who prevailed in the race over presidency in case the outcome of the vote is called into question1. As for the Constitutional Council, it gave victory to Gbagbo, meaning that as of today he is the legitimate president of the Ivory Coast and that the offensive meant to dislodge him is an outright aggression.
Africaseems to have become the proving ground for suspicious novelties in the sphere of the international law. The investigative activities of the International Criminal Court established in 2003, for example, have so far been entirely confined to the continent. One gets an impression that the new scenario – the elections fully controlled by the UN and, of course, producing predictable results – will be tested in Africa before being put to work elsewhere. In contrast to a number of past elections, the UN involvement will not be limited to supervision – rather, in the emerging framework the UN will provide funding for the elections and maintain full grip on all aspects of the process. In the Ivory Coast, the UN-controlled elections simply failed to enthrone the preferred candidate as Ouattara, a senior figure in the IMF in 1968-1988, was outpaced by Gbagbo. The rage over the botched experiment largely explains the international community's harshness in the Ivory Coast. At the moment the country is the scene of ferocious fighting with numerous fatalities among Gbagbo's loyalists and opponents alike.
In an attempt to bring the experiment staged in the Ivory Coast to completion, the International Criminal Court opened a genocide probe targeting Gbagbo. On top of that, on March 30, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1975 slapping sanctions on the regime in the Ivory Coast and – unprecedentedly for the international law – declaring the incumbent leader's presidency illegitimate without citing any grounds for the assessment.
It is a clear breach of the UN neutrality commitment that the UN forces overstepped their mandate and are assisting in the hunt for the Ivory Coast's president. Strictly speaking, the neutrality of the UN mission in the Ivory Coast degenerated into a total myth ages ago and, moreover, the UN peacekeeping missions are an invention which, though habitually counted as normal across the world, is not authorized by the UN Charter. The UN Security Council created the mission in the Ivory Coast by the February, 2004 Resolution with a broad reference to Chapter VII of the UN Charter without pointing to any specific article or paragraph therein. This is the same as handing out a sentence in court based on the entire criminal code without linking the charges to violations of individual laws. In other words, there was no legal backing whatsoever behind instituting the UN peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast. The only reason why, since the notorious 1961 crime in Congo, the dubious legal character of the UN peacekeeping missions largely went unchallenged is that until recently they used to land in sovereign countries following the requests from their governments or at least with the local governments' consent. In the Ivory Coast, the government actually demanded to withdraw the mission, but the UN Secretary-General chose to solve the problem by denying Gbagbo's legitimacy.
The international reaction to Gbagbo's efforts aimed at defusing the crisis peacefully showed to what extent those who organized the experiment in the Ivory Coast were unprepared to tolerate alternatives to their blueprint. Gbagbo's offer of ballot recount drew an angry statement from the UN Secretary-General, likely because he had no illusions as to the rivals' actual scores. From the outset, Ouattara was the only accepted candidate.
What makes the current developments in the Ivory Coast a completely new phenomenon is that while in the past foreign-assisted coups were perceived as violations of the international law and the aggressor could not count on the UN Security Council's support, these days the international law is being invoked to justify aggression. The trend is taking shape right now: the aggression against Libya was approved by the UN and in almost no time the aggression against the Ivory Coast was launched by the UN. The international law no longer serves to stabilize international relations. Over the past six decades since the end of World War II the term “the international law” has had a positive connotation and – while we almost stopped to realize this – in fact the situation has amounted to a radical departure from the colonial epoch to which the world is currently reverting. In the colonial epoch, the international law routinely enabled territorial gains and sanctioned aggressions (as in the law of war and peace by Hugo Grotius and the XIX century colonial international legislations).
The conflict in the Ivory Coast reflects a pivotal point in the XXI century history. For the first time since 1945, the year when mankind's triumph over fascism opened the epoch of progressive international law, the evolution appears to be reversed. The offensive in the Ivory Coat is a carefully planned operation meant to dismantle the fundamentals of the international law and world order. What is being encountered is not a breach of law but a radical shift towards flattening the global order. We are witnessing the dawn of a sinister new era threatening to dismantle the system of the international law as a whole.
(1) As E. Pustovoitova wrote in An “Elephant Bone” in Western Democracies’ Throat recently posted by the Strategic Culture Foundation, the dispute over presidency in the Ivory Coast should be resolved in accord with the country's constitution, which explicitly leaves it to the Constitutional Council to decide which candidate won the disputed elections.