The ECOWAS Intervention in the Gambia - 2016
In International Law on the Use of Force: A Case Based Approach (Tom Ruys and Oliver Corten eds., 2017)
27 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2017 Last revised: 11 Sep 2018
Date Written: October 2, 2017
This is a book chapter that examines the legality of the 2017 ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia. This chapter commences with a factual description of the crisis that broke out in The Gambia in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election, which ultimately led to the Senegalese-led ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia on January 19, 2017. It also describes the positions adopted by the international community, including international and regional organizations, during the crisis and after the beginning of the intervention.
This chapter then discusses the potential legal justifications for the intervention. These are: pro-democratic intervention, intervention by invitation, and UN Security Council authorization. It argues that the ECOWAS intervention is legally unjustifiable on any of these grounds. This is because pro-democratic intervention is not recognized as a legal basis for intervention, and because the Security Council did not authorize ECOWAS to intervene in The Gambia. This chapter also finds that, judged by the established rules of jus ad bellum governing intervention by invitation, the intervention was illegal. This is because President-Elect Adama Barrow did not exercise effective control – or indeed any control – over The Gambia when he invited ECOWAS to intervene to enforce the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. This chapter does argue, however, that when viewed in combination with earlier ECOWAS interventions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire, the ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia could signify a shift in the rules of customary international law relating to intervention by invitation, whereby a legitimate, but ineffective, government may enjoy the right to invite foreign intervention. Finally, this chapter argues that ECOWAS violated the prohibition on the threat of the use of force by issuing what essentially amounts to an ultimatum to force former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power.
Keywords: jus ad belum, the use of force, intervention by invitation, threats of the use of force, pro-democratic intervention, Gambia, ECOWAS
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation