News / Asia

Bin Laden Raid Re-ignites Debate About International Law

Pakistani women walk past covered graffiti that reads
Pakistani women walk past covered graffiti that reads "Usama bin Laden toun" (Osama bin Laden town) in Abbottabad on May 6, 2011, where bin Laden was killed by US commandos in a secret raid on May 2.

Multimedia

Audio
  • Analysis by Refik Hodzic from the International Center for Transnational Justice

The decision by the Obama administration to go after Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan without informing the government in Islamabad has officials there angrily denouncing the mission as a violation of its sovereignty.

Several days after the U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden, the Pakistani military warned that any future U.S. operations on Pakistani territory will result in a review of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States.

And Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir used harsh words last week,  warning of "disastrous consequences" for any nation that carries out unauthorized military actions in Pakistani territory.

For its part, top U.S. officials have said they did not give Pakistan, America's key ally in the war on terror, prior warning because of concerns that bin Laden or his associates might be tipped off.

The highly risky military operation, performed by an elite squadron of U.S. Navy SEALs, has raised questions about its legality under the confines of international law.

VOA's Paul Westpheling discussed the issue with Matthew Waxman, an associate professor of International Law at Columbia Law School in New York City.

Was this raid on bin Laden's compound outside the Pakistani capital a violation of international law in the sense that in infringed on the country's sovereignty?

"In normal times, it would be a violation of a state's sovereignty to launch this kind of raid without their consent. On the other hand, there are circumstances in which a state would be entitled to take action against the terrorist organization or terrorist agents in another state's territory when that state is unwilling or unable to take its own action against it. In this case, I think there is a good argument that the United States was justified as a matter of self-defense."

What about this unwilling or unable test, is this a consideration when one is debating whether or not international law has been breached?

"This is a contested area of international law, in part because, while there have been many previous cases involving self-defense against non-state groups, this is not a very common pattern in international law. And so the law of self-defense in this area is contested. I think there is a substantial body of opinion that would hold [that] the use of force in circumstances like this, if the host state is unwilling or unable to take action itself, would be legal so long as it comported with certain constraints, including that the use of force was necessary, that the actions taken were proportionate to the threat that was being faced, [and so on]."

When the United States invaded Iraq, for example, the U.S. knew who the enemy was, knew where they were. Here governments are trying to combat an organization called al-Qaida, which appears to have no home base. So does it come down to following them and taking the battle to where they are?

"I do agree with the idea that the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida and its allies, a non-state enemy. Unfortunately, it's now possible for terrorist organization to now wage violence on a level of intensity and sophistication, previously only achievable by states. As you point out, this leads to some difficulties in applying the laws of war because the boundaries of that enemy organization are not always as clear as they would be when you are fighting against another state."

Chapter 7 of the United Nation's Charter talks about self-defense, how does that apply here?

"The U.N. Charter contains a baseline prohibition on the threat or use of force. But then it goes on to explain that states retain their inherent right of self-defense. So in a sense, a self-defense carves out an exception to the general prohibition on the use of force. In this case, the United States is relying on that exception, that it faces an ongoing threat from al-Qaida, a non-state actor with which the United States is engaged in an ongoing armed conflict."

How about the idea Pakistan's point of view? The American Society of International Law writes on its website "that the facts and politics in this case make it unlikely that Pakistan's defense of its sovereignty would find significant international support."

"Part of the reason why this is a very difficult issue of international law is we're seeing the clash of two important principles on international law. One is a principle of territorial sovereignty and another is the principle of self-defense."

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More