Monday, October 08, 2001

Did attack on Afghanistan violate international law?

While the world reacts in various ways to the US-led attack on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, international law observers ponder an issue that threatens the very existence of international law as a discipline: Did the attack violate the international law prohibition on the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state?

In the case Nicaragua v. U.S., the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that the non-use of force principle as embodied in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter is a customary international law that is binding upon all the nations of the world independently of any treaty that may embody it. Only two noted exceptions are allowed under the rule: self-defense and UN-approved enforcement actions. None of these exceptions have so far been invoked as a legal ground under international law to justify the attack. None of them also appear to be existing.

While questions of this kind seem academic in the face of an almost overwhelming support for the attack in reaction to the World Trade Center bombings on September 11, 2001, not to mention that the chief proponents of the attack are the superpowers of the world, the question is relevant if only to confirm that there is such a field of law as public international law that states are bound to obey. Indeed, if international law was violated by the attack, who will impose the sanctions on the errant nations?

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