Defence CommitteeWritten evidence from Chris Coverdale, on behalf of the Campaign to Make Wars History and Stop the War Coalition

On 21 March the Government issued a note purporting to explain the legal basis for the use of armed force against Libya. The last paragraph of the note stated:

The Attorney General has been consulted and Her Majesty’s Government is satisfied that this Chapter VII authorisation to use all necessary measures provides a clear and unequivocal legal basis for deployment of UK forces and military assets to achieve the resolution’s objectives.

The claim that the use of armed force in Libya is authorised by the Security Council operating under Chapter VII of the UN Charter is false. The UN is a peacekeeping organisation and it is prohibited from using armed force. Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter states unequivocally:

The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions…

The phrase not involving the use of armed force is the single most important phrase in the UN Charter and its meaning is crystal clear. Would you please ask Government witnesses to explain how the use by HM Forces of high-explosive weapons such as cruise missiles, rockets, bombs and depleted uranium tipped munitions accords with the UN Charter and the prohibition on the use of armed force.

In 1970 the UN General Assembly issued a statement of the principles of international law that underpin the UN Charter. Two of its most important stipulations are:

Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues.

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements are in violation of international law.

Would you please ask your witnesses to explain why the Government is ignoring these prohibitions and violating international law in both Afghanistan and Libya.

As at 7 October, NATO forces have made 9,335 unlawful armed attacks from the air against targets in Libya in violation of the no-fly zone and the total ban on all flights. Libyan sources confirm that between 30,000 and 50,000 Libyan men women and children have been killed as a result of the conflict. Not one of our victims was allowed to defend themselves in court before being summarily killed by order of Parliament, the Prime Minister and NATO Governments.

Every political, civil and military leader in NATO knows that every human being has a right to life, that killing children is a crime against humanity, that killing people because of their nationality is genocide, that using weapons of mass destruction such as cruise missiles and depleted uranium munitions are war crimes, that a No Fly zone means that flying is prohibited and that civilians cannot be protected by attacking them with high-explosive weapons of mass destruction. Would you please ask witnesses and the Government to explain why they are undertaking, authorising, supporting or condoning actions which they know to be unlawful.

For more than 50 years UK Government lawyers have deceived Parliament, HM Armed Forces and the public over the illegal nature of warfare and armed conflict. It is time to identify and tell the truth about the laws of war and to expose the deep-seated corruption within Britain’s political and legal systems that has caused warfare and the use of overwhelming military force against innocent civilians to become a central and accepted part of the British way of life.

I ask you to initiate an immediate halt to Britain’s involvement in the wars with Libya and Afghanistan so that the legality of UK, NATO and ISAF armed interventions and the killings of innocent Afghan and Libyan men women and children can be considered in court.

Finally I ask that you establish a truly independent inquiry into the legality of warfare and the use of force so that arrangements can be made to ensure that Britain never again violates the UN Charter or the laws of war.

Extracts from UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 2625 (XXV). 24 October 1970

DECLARATION ON PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW CONCERNING FRIENDLY RELATIONS AND CO-OPERATION AMONG STATES IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS

Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues.

States shall accordingly seek early and just settlement of their international disputes by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements or other peaceful means of their choice. In seeking such a settlement the parties shall agree upon such peaceful means as may be appropriate to the circumstances and nature of the dispute.

The parties to a dispute have the duty, in the event of failure to reach a solution by any one of the above peaceful means, to continue to seek a settlement of the dispute by other peaceful means agreed upon by them.

States parties to an international dispute, as well as other States shall refrain from any action which may aggravate the Situation so as to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.

Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to above in the elaboration of the present principle of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence. In their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible action in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self-determination, such peoples are entitled to seek and to receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

The principles of the Charter which are embodied in this Declaration constitute basic principles of international law, and consequently appeals to all States to be guided by these principles in their international conduct and to develop their mutual relations on the basis of the strict observance of these principles.

7 October 2011

Prepared 7th February 2012