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The use of force in international law
The use of force in international law

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1.2 The use of force authorised by the UN Security Council

The UN Security Council plays a major role in the global collective security system by deciding whether force may be used against other states. Should a situation that threatens international peace and security occur, it is within the Security Council’s mandate to ‘determine the existence of any threat to the peace, [...] or act of aggression’ as well as to ‘make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42’ (Article 39 UN Charter). In such a situation, a state (or group of states) does not act unilaterally (as in the case of self-defence), but rather states act collectively by resorting to force acting under the authority of the international organisations (e.g. the UN Security Council).

Box 2 The use of force in Libya

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011 is an example of the authorisation of the use of force by the UN Security Council. On the 17 February 2011, soon after the outbreak of protests in Egypt and Tunisia, which marked the beginning of ‘The Arab Spring’, Libyans in Benghazi joined in peaceful protests against the oppressive rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. They demanded that he step down after 42 years of ruling Libya and called for an open, democratic and inclusive Libya. They demanded the end of an era of oppression and gross human rights violations in the country, such as those committed in 1996 in the Abu Salim prison. The response of Gaddafi to this protest with armed violence against civilian protesters ignited a civil war between the government forces in support of Gaddafi and the opposition armed forces formed by the rebels.

On 17 March 2011, the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted Resolution 1973 authorising member states ‘to take all necessary measures […] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.’

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Figure 1 Protesting in Libya, 2011