By Ronald Rogo (email@example.com)
In October 2011 Operation Linda Nchi (Kiswahili for “Protect the Country”) was launched by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). Operation Linda Nchi was the code name for Kenya’s military incursion into southern Somalia. The ostensible goal of the military adventures was to crash and hopefully eliminate the threat posed by the Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization operating in Somalia and with reported links to the Al Qaeda terror group. The immediate cause of this unusual turn of events was the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers working with the Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian organization, from the Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya. It was alleged that this kidnapping was planned and executed by the Al Shabaab. With this military incursion, Kenya joined a growing list of countries that have used the war against terrorism as justification for waging ‘war’ outside their borders .
However, the war paradigm cannot be used as justification for a “war” against terrorism as it does not fit into any of the recognised legal categories of armed conflict. Instead, nations need to come up with another perspective when confronting terrorism that will both be tenable and legally justifiable. First, the UN Charter recognizes the right of a state to respond by force using its armed forces in cases of self defence. However, the initial attack must rise to the level where it causes “necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” for the responding state. This means that the state must be put in a position where the only feasible option would be to roll out its armed forces. Clearly, it is doubtful whether a solitary terrorist attack would be able to meet this qualification.
Secondly, an armed conflict is seen to arise whenever there is “any difference arising between two States and leading to the intervention of members of the armed forces”. This definition presupposes that there are two sides to the conflict who engage in arms in order to resolve their conflict. There is usually a state of armed conflict between two parties. In addition, the traditional view has been that war is generally an international armed conflict that takes place between two nation states, each trying to assert its will on the other. Based on the above it is doubtful whether one could legally engage in an armed conflict with terrorists. Whereas it is correct that the armed forces of a particular state could be deployed to hunt out, capture and kill terrorists, such as the KDF has done in Somalia, the terrorists do not, in turn, have an armed force that could then result in an armed conflict. In reality any “war” against terrorists does not have the typical ingredients of a battlefield clash; be it in the air, on the land or over the waters. Since terrorists engage in their criminal activities under the cover of ordinary daily occurrences, it is unrealistic to expect them to engage directly with a country’s armed forces. Instead, depending on the particular modus operandi of the particular terrorist organization one would expect that they would attempt to mingle with innocent civilians.
In the Lubanga case the International Criminal Court held that an armed conflict is of an international character if “it takes place between two or more States” and that “this extends to the partial or total occupation of the territory of another State, whether or not the said occupation meets with armed resistance.” Again, the ICC in the Bemba decision, held that “an international armed conflict exists in case of armed hostilities between States through their respective armed forces or other actors acting on behalf of the State” .
A non international armed conflict, on the other hand, must occur within the territory of the State . The Additional Protocol II , provides that the non state actor must be “under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations”. Thus, in order for an internal conflict to be qualified as a non international armed conflict and therefore to be covered by IHL there are certain necessary ingredients that must be met. The main one is that the threshold of the conflict must exceed that of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature. In applying this provision the ICTY Appeals Chamber decision in the Tadic case held as follows:
“an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring States or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there” .
Further in the Lubanga decision, while setting out the characteristics of a non international armed conflict the court held that one should consider “the force or group’s internal hierarchy; the command structure and rules; the extent to which military equipment, including firearms, are available; the force or group’s ability to plan military operations and put them into effect; and the extent, seriousness, and intensity of any military involvement” .
Again, in order for a conflict to be characterized as a non international armed conflict, it must “take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party” . This means that the theatre of the conflict should have been in Kenya, not Somalia. While the government of Somalia could make the argument that when it combats Al Shabaab it is engaging in a non international armed conflict, the KDF cannot. Significantly, the KDF operation cannot meet the requirements of a non international armed conflict on this score too. Apart from repeated isolated attacks in Kenya it cannot be said that the Al Shabaab controlled a part (or any part of Kenya) of Kenya as at the time of the invasion. Further, the KDF has not engaged militarily with any Al Shabaab terrorist groups within Kenya. Lastly, the law requires the military operations of the armed group to be “sustained and concerted”. Although the Al Shabaab has conducted raids on Kenyan soil, it would be a stretch to characterize them as either sustained or concerted.
From the above, it is evident that the use of a war paradigm when confronting the Al Shabaab terror group in Somalia-or any other terror group for that matter-is tenuous. In reality, attacks by terrorist groups ought to be considered as criminal activities that require police response-even militarized police response if necessary-rather than acts of war. As Stacie Gorman has stated:
“terrorists are criminals, and not soldiers of war… The practice of trying terrorists in a court of law suggests that the United States has, in the past, recognized that it is limited in its ability to declare war against terrorist groups”
It is therefore important for more police action-rather than military activity-to be involved in this “war” against terrorists in the region. The former are not only more efficient in counter terrorism operations but will not suffer legal incongruity.