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The Difference between Rhetoric and Reality: Why an Illegitimate Regime May Still be a Government in the Eyes of International Law

Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford. The current situation in Libya provides a good example of grand political rhetoric meeting legal reality. Over the last fortnight the Qadhafi administration seems to have undergone a transformation from being the ‘Government of Libya’ to being an ‘illegitimate regime’. On 26 February 2011, US President Barack Obama said with regard to Colonel Qadhafi: ‘when a leader`s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule’. This was echoed two days later, by UK Prime Minister David Cameron who told the House of Commons: ‘It is clear that this is an illegitimate regime that has lost the consent of its people.’ Through his actions, Colonel Qadhafi may ‘have lost the legitimacy to govern’ but has he also lost the competence to do so under international law? International law does not distinguish between illegitimate regimes and lawful governments. ‘Legitimacy’ is a political concept and…

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Has the United Kingdom De-Recognized Colonel Qadhafi as Head of State of Libya?

On 27 February 2011, it was reported in the media that the United Kingdom had revoked the diplomatic immunity of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and his family (see here and here). Earlier that day, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told BBC1`s Andrew Marr Show: ‘[...] the people of Libya have risen…

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Duality of government in Côte d’Ivoire

 Dr. Jean d’Aspremont is Associate Professor of International Law and Senior Research Fellow of the Amsterdam Center for International Law at the University of Amsterdam. He is  also Guest Professor of International Humanitarian Law at the University of Louvain in Belgium and Senior Editor of the Leiden Journal of International Law. The current…

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The Honduran Crisis and the Turn to Constitutional Legitimism, Part I: The Place of Domestic Constitutional Orders in the International Legal Framework

Who is the current President of Honduras?  Far from the stuff of quiz shows, this question bears on the very foundations of international law.  The international reaction to the June 28, 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, though superficially similar to earlier repudiations of coups, is in important respects unprecedented.  Its implications have a profundity that few international…

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Comment on Benvenisti & Downs’, ‘National Courts, Domestic Democracy, and the Evolution of International Law’

Alison MacDonald is an English Barrister at Matrix Chambers and was a Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford from 1999 to 2006. She has acted as counsel before a range of international tribunals including the European Court of Human Rights, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,…

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