Last week, it was the Isreal-Hezbollah issue. This time around, we are taking a trip to Mali. Mali has been a victim of an armed attacks perpetrated by a group of non-state actors, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and the Ansar Dine movement. France, a former colonial master of Mali responded on invitation with “Operation Serval”.
“Operation Serval”, France’s military intervention in Mali, has raised issues in relation to its legality in international law.  Although, this is only a question of what the position of the law is as the support in favour of France’s intervention has been overwhelming.[1]
Let’s briefly consider the question of the lawfulness of the intervention. The French MFA Laurent Fabius had declared to the press that the intervention was legally justified in the following words:
“Firstly, the appeal and the request made by Mali’s legitimate government, so here this is a case of legitimate self-defence; and secondly, all the United Nations resolutions, which not only allow but require those countries capable of doing so to support the fight against the terrorists in this matter.…[T]o this legitimacy, drawn from Article 51 – to the legitimacy drawn from the United Nations resolutions – I’d like to add, if it were needed, two other forms of legitimacy: firstly the request by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, and the position taken by the African Union…,who asked everyone to provide, in line with the relevant decisions by the Peace and Security Council, the required support at logistical and financial level and in terms of strengthening the capabilities of the Malian defence and security forces. So nobody is going to challenge this legitimacy” (emphasis mine).          
From the justifications provided by France for its military intervention in Mali above, three major arguments are presented: an invitation by the Malian government, its right of collective self-defense and the authorisation given by the United Nations (UN) Security Council in Resolution 2085 (20 December 2012).
Let us shed some light on the first argument: invitation by the Malian government. This implies a sort of third party defense. The consensus opinion which is also in compliance with the provisions of international law is the argument that the Malian government invited France to intervene. France’s use of force in Mali is lawful. Every state is entitled to the exercise of the inherent right of self-defense, recognized by Art. 51 of the U.N. Charter.[2]

Although, a counter-argument that the Malian government is not a legitimate one could be put up. The present administration was not recognised by the international community as the country’s constitutional government. France did not also re cognise it – before the military intervention.[3] In any case, France has the liberty as a sovereign state to recognise the military leadership as the legitimate government of Mali.
Therefore, when one considers that France had received an official invitation to intervene by the Malian government for the purpose of regaining its territorial integrity against Jihadists in the north of the country, “Operation Serval” can rightly be considered as a legal justification under international law. It is really not a complicated affair. Mali willingly consented to the French military operation.
As a matter of fact, where this consent is established, France need not have provide the international community with other justifications, such as Resolution 2085 by the Security Council and the controversial and shaky legitimate right of self-defence under the UN Charter.
At the same time, France still felt it necessary to invoke the other two arguments based on the UN Charter. In Resolution 2085, the Security Council “authorize[d] the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year, which [should] take all necessary measures.” At first glance, France could legitimately invoke this resolution to justify its intervention in Mali. The argument of self-defense put forward by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, also fails to hold.
Under international law, there are several conditions that must be fulfilled for the right of self-defense to be exercised. In the case of Mali, were these conditions met?  Does Resolution 2085, the Security Council’s authorisation of the deployment of an AFISMA[4] constitute a legal basis for France to legitimately intervene by military action in Mali?  
Sure, you don’t want to miss the discourse on these very salient questions next week! Let’s make it a date.      


[1] Many individual States, regional organisations (including ECOWAS), the UN Secretary General and the members of the UN Security Council are all in support of the intervention.
[2] The Charter also permits states to help defend other states.
[3] In March, 2012, the military overthrew the democratically elected government. The action was highly condemned by the international community.[3] Although, the military leadership agreed to appoint a prime minister as head of an interim government pending elections for civilian rule, but the new interim prime minister was sacked in another coup in December, 2012.
[4] African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year.

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Nigerian Law Today

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