Intervention in African Conflicts by the United Nations Security Council

By Olivier, Michele; Chusi, Neema | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Intervention in African Conflicts by the United Nations Security Council


Olivier, Michele, Chusi, Neema, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


ABSTRACT

This paper addresses the African conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Somalia, Burundi and Ethiopia-Eritrea. Intervention by the United Nations Security Council to restore or maintain peace and security is examined. The intervention in, or response of the Security Council to conflicts in Africa is assessed against the background of its Charter-based mandate and an emerging international responsibility to protect vulnerable populations against conflict where states and their governments are unable to do so. In so doing, the perception that Africa has been and remains marginalised by the Security Council is evaluated and suggestions made on how Africa should respond to its own conflicts.

1. INTRODUCTION

Over past decades, post-colonial Africa has been 'host' to the greatest number and the most brutal conflicts in the world. It is estimated that conflict in Africa was responsible for approximately 90 per cent of the total number of war deaths in the 1990s, and that nine of the ten bloodiest conflicts of the decade were played out in Africa. (1) Despite the need for conflict resolution, the perception persists that the plight of Africans appears, until recently, not to have featured on the priority list of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (hereafter the Security Council) or its key members. (2)

This article focuses on African conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Somalia, Burundi and Ethiopia-Eritrea and examines intervention by the Security Council to restore or maintain peace and security. UN Charter provisions and Security Council practice are analysed in order to identify reasons for the lack of or inconsistency in Security Council action in Africa. The intervention or response of the Security Council to conflicts in Africa is compared with other conflicts outside the African continent. By comparing the Security Council response with the extent and severity of each individual conflict, the article assesses both the Security Council's performance in the fulfillment of its duty to restore international peace and security, and whether Africa has been and remains marginalised by the Security Council. Special emphasis is placed on the responsibility of the African Union to maintain peace and security in Africa, coupled with an emerging international duty to protect vulnerable populations.

2. THE MANDATE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL TO MAINTAIN PEACE AND SECURITY

The current activities of the Security Council must be understood against the backdrop of the scope of its practice which has developed since its inception. The primary responsibility of the Security Council is the maintenance of international peace and security by ensuring prompt and effective action by the UN. (3) In its earlier years, the Security Council acted almost solely in cases of war between states. Today, the Security Council views its mandate as including internal conflicts such as civil wars, human rights violations and terrorism. (4) The composition of the Security Council and, more specifically, its decision-making process are subject to considerable controversy. While decisions on procedural matters in the Security Council ate taken by an affirmative vote of nine members, (5) decisions on all other matters are taken "by ah affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members". (6) The right to say no, also known as the rule of the 'Great Power Unanimity' or the veto, is thus granted to each of the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely the United States (US), Russia, China, the United Kingdom (UK) and France. When the permanent five first obtained their positions of power after World War II, it was in a UN composed of 51 members. Years of decolonisation, self-determination and secession have resulted in a current membership of 192 independent states.

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