Côte d'Ivoire: Is Foreign Intervention Legal?

This post is part of our special coverage Côte d'Ivoire Unrest 2011

The struggle for power in Côte d'Ivoire may soon reach its conclusion in Abidjan, where The Republican Forces (FRCI) loyal to Alassane Ouattara have started an offensive against the positions controlled by forces of Laurent Gbagbo on Monday April 4. Both men claim rights to the presidency, after a disputed election in November 2010, but Ouattara is internationally recognized to have won.

As the assault began to force the ouster of Gbagbo, the involvement of foreign forces, officially as a measure of protection for civilians, was brought up and debated at length on the web.

Screenshot from video showing bombardment in Abidjan

Screenshot from citizen video (below) showing bombardment in Abidjan from a distance (April 4, 2011)

Earlier in the afternoon, Choi Young-jin, special representative of the UN Secretary General in Ivory Coast, told the BBC that United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) would intervene in Abidjan. He said:

We are planning action, we can no longer condone their [Mr Gbagbo's forces] reckless and mindless attack on civilians and the United Nations blue helmets with heavy artillery.

The Twitter account of the French Presidential Office confirmed:

@Elysée: Conformément à son mandat, l'#ONUCI vient d'engager des actions visant à neutraliser les armes lourdes contre les populations civiles.

In accordance with its mandate, the UNOCI has just taken actions to neutralise heavy artillery against civilians.

@Elysée: Le Secrétaire général des Nations Unies a demandé le soutien des forces françaises à ces opérations.

The UN Secretary General has asked for the support of French forces to these operations.

@Elysée: Le Président #Sarkozy a répondu positivement à la demande & autorisé les forces françaises à participer aux opérations conduites par l'ONUCI.

President Sarkozy answered affirmatively to this request and authorised French forces to take part in operations led by the UNOCI.

Witnessing the intervention

According to @Lord225 on Twitter, the operation began at 5.22 pm GMT:

@Lord225: L'assaut est effectif, 17h22 bombardement de plusieurs positions du camp gbagbo, épaisse fumée dans l'air #civ2010

The assault is effective, 5.22 pm bombing of several strategic positions of the Gbagbo camp, thick smoke in the air

Soon after the announcement of the beginning of the operation, Ivorian netizens said they sighted military equipment of the type used by French Special Forces. Israël Yoroba, an Ivorian journalist, currently a correspondent for TV5 Monde in Abidjan, posted on his Twitter account:

Je confirme que les camps d'Akouédo sont en train d'être pillonés par deux hélico. 1 Puma et 1 Mi 24. Faites le savoir au monde entier

I confirm that Akouédo camps are currently being bombarded by two helicopters, a Puma and a MI 24. Let the whole world know about it

A puma is one of the standard assault helicopters used by French Special Forces, as this video posted on Dailymotion shows.

Yoroba invited inhabitants of Abidjan to leave their testimonies on his Facebook Page on the current situation:

Pendant que que la force française bombarde à Abidjan, des populations racontent en direct comment elles vivent ces tirs http://lnp.sn/Zwj

While the French Forces are bombing Abidjan, the population is telling us directly how they are coping with the shootings

Here are some reactions:

Sedrick Ngotta who is in Abidjan says:

Je confirme c est pas les rebel mais les blancs qui nous pillone oh mon dieu!

I confirm, it's not the rebels bombarding us, it's the white men. Oh My God!

Peter Zéphirin Wahi in Abidjan confirms:

Bombardements des helicos des forces licornes du camp d'akouédo, et l'onuci vient de tirer sur la residence du Chef de l'Etat à cocody et la Présidence au plateau à partir d'helico.

Bombings by French forces helicopters on Akouédo camp, and UNOCI has just shot on the Presidential Residence in Cocody, and the Presidential palace in Plateau from an helicopter.

On YouTube AfricaWeWish posted a video showing what they describe as “the bombardment of the Akouédo camp by UNOCI and French forces”:

MLDoss1 also shared a video shot near the Akouédo camp:

Reactions to foreign involvement

From all over Africa, netizens commented on this international intervention :

On the Facebook Page of “La majorité Présidentielle” (Gbagbo's political party), which is “liked” by 7,231 individuals, people describe how ready they are to fight for their country.

Vakaba Diaby:

j'ai pu me rendre près d'un camp et j'ai suivi et subi les bombardements, mais ma foi en la victoire de la Côte d'Ivoire ne fait que grandir

I've been able to get very close to the camp, I followed and was subjected to bombardments, but my faith in the victory of Côte d'Ivoire keeps on growing

Anicet Bidza who lives in France adds:

Nous devons nous mobiliser ici en France pour interpeller l'opinion publique Française!!! Ce qui se passe est extrêmement grave et le silence assourdissant des autres pays Africains est un crime contre la cote d'ivoire!!!

We must mobilize here in France in order to call the attention of French public opinion!!! What is going on is extremely grave and the deafening silence of the other African countries is a crime against Côte d'Ivoire!!!

On the Twitter hashtag #civ2010, dedicated to news on Côte d'Ivoire, some share their doubts on the benefit of this international involvement:

Kaya-Mangan Cissé says:

@freerci: Je suis pour le depart de Gbagbo mais contre l'intervention de la france et de l'ONU.

I am in favor of the departure of Gbagbo, but I am against intervention of France and UNOCI.

Is it legal?

Bruno Ben Moubamba, a Gabonese politician, former candidate to the 2009 presidential election in Gabon, wrote on his blog [fr] on April 4, 2011 that Nicolas Sarkozy was committing an act of war in violation of international law. French Armed Forces have been stationed in Côte d'Ivoire as part of a peacekeeping operation called, Operation Unicorn (Opération Licorne) since the beginning of the Ivorian Civil War from 2002-2007. Moubamba writes that two United Nations resolutions recalled the use of heavy artillery on the civilian population by these forces, specifically United Nations Resolution 1726 of November 1, 2006 and Resolution 1975 (PDF) of March 30, 2011.

He concludes that the French government exceeded the mandate of Operation Unicorn by intervening with bombardments in Abidjan:

Il s’agit ni plus, ni moins, de la part de la Présidence de Nicolas Sarkozy, d’UN ACTE GRAVE d’Agression. Cet acte engage à son insu le peuple français

It is no more no less than a SERIOUS ACT OF AGGRESSION by the administration of Nicolas Sarkozy. This act also commits unwittingly the French citizens.

This post is part of our special coverage Côte d'Ivoire Unrest 2011


  • They Killed Sankara, Lumumba, Biko & many others. If they Kill Gbagbo the resistance will never end! Africa will be Free. SAD DAY FOR AFRICA !


  • […] A Gambonese politician concluded that the French operations in Cote D’Ivoire were illegal (English link). I don’t agree but I’ll take a closer look tomorrow about whether the actions exceed […]

  • adame

    without French and UN planes the fighting would still be raging for at least another few days, while the people starve. If it takes french and UN help to get this nightmare over with sooner then im all for it.

  • Manzoor H. Sarkar

    I guess you got a point . I don’t consider it any longer an internal affair . When a crisis gets such a dimension that the civilians are not safe any more in their homes and flee to the neighbouring places or countries , it threatens international peace . The world , i.e. the International Community should not tolerate any more these types of dictatorial overstay in power through military means defying democratic elections, which have been very much in fashion over the past half century in Africa . So , I fully support international interventions to restore peace and stability in a said country or region .

    • David

      R u sure u know wot u r talking about? R u sure this guy Gbagbo is a dictator? Did u know 2 Presidents before him did not allow Mr Ouattara to run for Presidential election? 1st in 1995 and then in 2000. Gbagbo is the only 1 who actually allowed him in 2010. But the main question is, who provided the rebels with arms in 2002? Who has been training them and giving them money in Burkina Faso? When the rebels, led by Allassane Ouattara, tried to overthrow a democraticly elected President in 2002, why was this never condemned by France? I think we need to be carefull here, especially if you dont know what you are talking about.

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