The legal questions raised by the Arab Spring are almost as numerous and as complex as the scenarios that occurred. In Libya, for instance, the late Colonel Qaddafi, in response to civil protests in the east of the country, launched armed attacks against protesters, and then later plunged the country into an armed conflict of a non-international character with groups that became organised and armed, thereby triggering the application of international humanitarian law (IHL). This had the paradoxical consequence under IHL of allowing the Libyan government to use force against persons participating directly in hostilities, who could also be tried for having taken up arms against the regime. The evaluation of the use of force in such contexts needs to start with an analysis of the right to protest under international law and to its regulation. May a government use force to limit or control mass protest, and if so, what is its scope? In particular, what does public international law have to say, if anything, about armed civil resistance against oppressive political regimes? Can a State commit the equivalent of aggression against its own people and, were this the case, is there a collective right to self-defence for a population in danger? Would this change the applicable law?
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