Saturday, August 12, 2006

Jus ad bellum in the Middle East: History, Security Council, Human Rights Council

By Otto Spijkers

In March of 1978, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon and occupied most of the southern part of the country. This was a response to a deadly commando attack by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Israel. The UN Security Council established a peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, “for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces, restoring international peace and security and assisting the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area." (S/RES/426(1978)). Israel withdrew its forces completely more than twenty years later, in 2000 (S/2000/590), but recently returned and UNIFIL is still in Lebanon today.

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded the southern part of Lebanon in order to defend itself against attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), committed from within Lebanese territory (S/12598). The Lebanese government claimed it was not to be blamed for the attacks, since it had no control over that part of Lebanon (S/12600, S/15087). During this escalation, UNIFIL remained behind the Israeli lines, with its role limited to providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the local population to the extent possible. In the same year Hezbollah was created, which has as one of its main goals the liberation of the southern part of Lebanon from foreign troops. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw all its forces “forthwith and unconditionally” (S/RES/509(1982)). Israel complained: it wanted to exercise its right to self-defense, and did so, notwithstanding the SC resolution. France wanted a robust peacekeeping force in Lebanon, but the US vetoed a resolution establishing such a force (S/15255). A very critical General Assembly resolution, condemining Israel for non-compliance of Security Council Resolution 509 (1982), was adopted during an emergency session on the 26th of June (A/RES/ES-7/5(1982)), with only Israel and the US dissenting.

What is the situation now? Hezbollah continues to control the southern part of Lebanon, even though the international community frequently called upon the Lebanese government to take control over its entire territory (S/RES/1559(2004)). After an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two, Israel responded with overwhelming force, often criticised as disproportionate. The result is described by the Secretary-General in his address to the Security Council (minutes before the adoption of the resolution I will discuss in a minute):

"Too many of the victims have been children. In fact, more children than fighters have been killed in this conflict. Israeli bombing has turned thousands of homes to rubble. It has also destroyed dozens of bridges and roads, with the result that more than a hundred thousand people cannot reach safety, nor can relief supplies reach them. Such devastation would be tragic at any time. That it has been inflicted on Lebanon's people just when they were making real progress towards political reform and economic recovery makes it all the more so."

The response of the international community is late; a delay often explained by Israel’s granted wish to continue to defend itself and considerably weaken Hezbollah before an international peacekeeping force arrives. Last Friday, a resolution (S/RES/1701(2006)) was adopted by the UN Security Council. It says that Hezbollah must stop “all attacks”, while Israel must stop “all offensive military operations”. The resolution also calls upon "an increase in the force strength of Unifil to a maximum of 15,000 troops", to carry out the mandate of the resolution of 1978 and to "support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South." Hezbollah accepted the resolution, while Israel, before accepting the resolution, responded by further expanding its push into Lebanon, wounding one UN peacekeeper.

On the same day as the Security Council adopted its resolution, the UN Human Rights Council adopted its own resolution on the Lebanon issue, during its second special session - the first special session was on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory -, in which the Council “strongly condemns the grave Israeli violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon”, and calls upon Israel to “observe the principle of proportionality and refrain from launching any attack that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life.” It also called upon all parties to respect the rules of humanitarian law. This last general remark notwithstanding, the Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution very critical of Israel, while the Security Council resolution is quite different in character.

All symbols you see in this text are UN Symbols. You can use these symbols to find the documents in the UN Documentation Database, which is free and universally accessible.

Two pictures are of UNIFIL peacekeepers, and taken from the UNIFIL website. The third is a picture of the UN Security Council.