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Abstract

In December 2010, public demonstrations erupted throughout the Middle East against autocratic regimes, igniting a regional political transformation known as the Arab Spring. Depending on events, modern international criminal and humanitarian law provided certain protections to vulnerable populations. However, international law did not provide a uniform degree of protection to civilians and combatants who faced similar circumstances. This Article argues for a uniform standard of protections for all populations affected by armed conflict, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It evaluates each of five major Arab Spring uprisings (Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Libya) and describes the legal protections that applied in each country’s revolution or rebellion. We analyze the differences in protection, focusing on the distinction between international and non-international armed conflicts under current international law, which affords a significantly lower degree of protection during civil conflicts. Given the substantial number of non-international armed conflicts in the modern era, we argue for a uniform standard of protections for all armed conflicts. Next, the Article shows that current sovereignty trends are moving away from the concept of an absolute sovereign in favor of a responsible sovereign who adheres to international standards. This trend is incompatible with current international law, which provides a minimal level of protection during civil war, and could therefore shield sovereigns from liability for mass atrocity crimes. Finally, this Article offers solutions to appropriately minimize outdated sovereignty norms and eliminate unjustified distinctions in the international legal system using lessons from the Arab Spring.

 

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