Legality blurred in Libya intervention
15 April 2011
If CIA operatives and British special forces are aiding Lybian rebels against Muammar Gaddafi, these activities are almost certainly illegal in international law, writes Alison Pert in today's edition of The Australian.
"International law views civil war as an internal matter: it is for the people of each state to determine their own political fate, and other states cannot interfere in that process," she writes.
"The only exception to this prohibition is that a government facing civil war can still invite outside assistance where the rebels have themselves received foreign help.
"So far as intervention to assist the opposition is concerned, this is, and always has been, illegal in international law.
"The theoretical basis for this has been debated over the years but the generally recognised rationales for the prohibition are the principle of non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty.
"As the International Court of Justice has made clear on more than one occasion, the principle of non-intervention prohibits a state 'to intervene, directly or indirectly, with or without armed force, in support of an internal opposition in another state'.
"The merits or otherwise of the rebels' cause is immaterial: whether they are fighting to depose a brutal tyrant or a model democratic regime, no state may legally assist them."
Alison Pert lectures in public international law and has a special interest in the use of armed force and Australia's compliance with its treaty commitments.
Contact: Greg Sherington
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