The qualification of a conflict as international or non-international is of key importance in determining the legal regime to be applied under the law of armed conflict. Despite recent developments suggesting an increasing convergence of the law applied in international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts, there remain a number of significant differences between the minimum protections of Common Article 3 and the comprehensive regulation of the Common Article 2 regime. The fact pattern of the 2011 civil war in Libya is complex, and there have been allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law by all parties. This article will track the transformations of conflict status in Libya, arguing that the initial internal uprising rose to the level of a non-international armed conflict, triggering the application of Common Article 3, and was then transformed by foreign intervention into an international armed conflict, governed by the stricter standards of Common Article 2. This international conflict was then ‘re-internalized’ by international recognition of the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya in mid-July. It is hoped that, by clarifying the legal regimes applicable to actors over the course of the conflict, this article will help make it possible to reach sound judgments as to the legality of the actions of those taking part in hostilities. These transformations also expose a certain arbitrariness in the Geneva system, as conflict status shifts in response to political events, rather than humanitarian concerns.
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