British Legal Experts: Arming Libyan Rebels Violates UN Charter

A British expert on international law said prime minister David Cameron's statement that he would not rule out arming rebels of Libya as potentially breaking the United Nations charter.

Professor Nick Grief, director of the legal studies department at the University of Kent in England, whose expertise includes international law, told Xinhua Friday, "Arming the rebels would be fundamentally at odds with the primary purpose of United Nations resolution 1973, which is to protect civilians in Libya. This is about respecting the terms and language of the resolutions and ultimately of the UN Charter itself."

At issue were two United Nations resolutions. The first, resolution 1970, passed in February, imposes an arms embargo on Libya.

The second, resolution 1973, passed this month, allows for a no- fly zone, which has been enforced by Western nations and some Arab forces, since March 19.

British Prime Minister Cameron said in a House of Commons debate on Wednesday, "The arms embargo applies to the whole territory of Libya. But, at the same time, UN Security Council resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas. Our view is that this would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. We do not rule it out, but we have not taken the decision to do so."

Grief said resolution 1973, which authorizes "all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya" has to be interpreted " strictly or narrowly because it is an exception to the UN charters prohibition of the use of force."

He added, "The resolution must also be interpreted in accordance with its own aims -- the aim of 1973 is to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack. It seems to me that UN resolution 1970 is still in place. The arms embargo is still in place -- it has not been over-ridden or displaced by UN resolution 1973."

"Arming the rebels would not necessarily protect rebel civilians and it would certainly not, in my view, protect pro- Gaddafi civilians," said Grief.

He added that it "doesn't matter which side of the fence they are on, they are to be protected."

Grief's analysis was backed up by another British expert Philippe Sands, professor of international law at University College London.

"The embargo appears to cover everybody in the conflict which means you can't supply arms to rebels," he told the Guardian newspaper.

British lawmaker Rory Stewart, a member of Cameron's own Conservative party, said recently that Britain should be "very careful not to push the letter of the law but stick to the spirit of that resolution. If anyone is to arm the rebels, can I respectfully suggest Britain should not be in the lead?"

He was joined in his criticism by a senior member of the Conservative party, Edward Leigh who feared that if Britain armed rebels then the weapons would end up in terrorist hands.

He said, "Would it not be a double win for al Qaeda and would we not start to lose support in the Arab world if we were seen to impose a solution on Libya and at the same time to give arms to what could prove to be Islamist insurgents in the future?"

[Source: Xinhua, London, 01Apr11]

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