The NATO attack on Libya was debated at a meeting sponsored by the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law in Melbourne on April 20.
Don Rothwell, a law professor at the Australian National University, argued that the intervention is consistent with the doctrine of "responsibility to protect".
This doctrine, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, endorses outside intervention to protect people from genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes carried out by their own government.
Gideon Boas, a former legal officer with the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, agreed with Rothwell that the attack on Libya was legal, because it was authorised by the UN Security Council.
However, he saw a lot of dangers, including that of NATO becoming involved in a ground war, and the possibility that, if Gaddafi is overthrown, the new leader may be equally bad.
Jeff Sparrow, the editor of Overland magazine, opposed the NATO intervention outright.
He said that ideas of "humanitarian intervention" and the "responsibility to protect" are similar to the old idea of the "white man's burden", in that they justify the imperialist powers invading other countries for the supposed benefit of the local people.
Sparrow pointed out that similar arguments had been used to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
He argued that only the people of Libya and the Arab world can solve these problems.
He cited the example of Egypt, where the protesters had won the soldiers to their side, but said that a similar outcome in Libya is now more difficult, because of the conversion of the Libyan revolution into a conventional war.