By Dr Mufied Shehab
The application of non-interference as a principle faces some difficulties due to the political nature of its phrasing in the United Nations Charter. The legitimacy or illegitimacy of interference primarily depends on the political will of the states where this interference happens.
When foreign interference happens at the request of governments, it is considered a legitimate matter. The same interference is an aggression, if it happens contrary to the political will of the governments of the states where it is happening.
Nevertheless, there are exceptions in the light of which states are given the right to interfere in other states. These exceptions include the following:
1 – Protecting the security of groups
Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations stipulates the measures the United Nations takes to protect the security of groups. These include military measures that constitute an exception, together with legitimate self-defense. These two exceptions are acceptable because they are taken for the preservation of international peace and security. The United Nations Security Council has the right to interfere in cases where internal conflicts in states seep out of these states and threaten international peace and security.
2 – Government request
Interference at the request of governments has stirred up debate. Some people view this interference legitimate, given the fact that governments have the right to manage the domestic affairs of states, including the right to demand interference from other countries.
Nonetheless, the other view is that governments do not have the right to request foreign interference because self-determination is an absolute right of peoples. The same view contends that governments that request foreign interference lose their legitimacy. Similarly, states that interfere in other states to suppress opposition to governments are committing a crime against the peoples of these states.
3 – Defense of humanity
Defense against human rights abuses surged as an action at the beginning of the 1990s. However, interference in these cases hid political and strategic objectives behind it. Major states gained the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of other states under the pretext of offering humanitarian aid.
The same interference raised questions on whether a new legal concept is coming into existence. This interference has led to changing long-held legal concepts, including the concept of sovereignty and the concept of non-interference.
The fact is that interference for humanitarian causes proved to be a cloak for serving the political and strategic interests of powerful states. These states use humanitarian aid as a pretext for imposing their own will in the states where they are introducing this aid. These states do this only to deceive international public opinion.
President of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, clarified this in 2009 when he warned that the principle of protection and the way the international community understands interference to prevent crimes against humanity could threaten the sovereignty of states.
The fact is that non-interference faces a crisis of confidence at present. Examples of interference in the Arab world can show this clearly. The 2011 interference in Libya, for example, got off its track, namely the protection of civilians, and aimed at bringing down the Libyan regime. The UN Security Council also failed in taking action against the crimes committed against masses of Syrians in 2011, which amounted to crimes against humanity.
The biggest failure of the Security Council was in the Palestinian territories where it came short of offering protection to civilians against Israeli violations.
The future of the United Nations hinges primarily on putting this concept of interference into context and committing major countries to international law, which at the end will equate between countries when it comes to sovereignty. This will force everybody to abide by the United Nations Charter.
Dr Mufied Shehab is a professor of international law at Cairo University and a former minister of higher education.