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Towards a Single Definition of Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law: A Critique of Internationalized Armed Conflict

International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 850, pp. 313-350, 2003

38 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2011 Last revised: 19 Oct 2016

James G. Stewart

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 30, 2003

Abstract

The strict division of international humanitarian law into rules applicable in international armed conflict and those relevant to armed conflicts not of an international nature is almost universally criticized. Even though attempts to abandon the distinction were made at every stage of negotiation of the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, calls for a single body of international humanitarian law have since died out. This article revives those calls by highlighting the inadequacies of the current dichotomy’s treatment of internationalized armed conflicts, namely, armed conflicts that involve internal and international elements.

It concludes that the law developed to determine this “internationalization” has created convoluted tests that in practice are near impossible to apply. Even once internationalized, it is difficult to determine the applicable law as relationships and military presences change. Moreover, the international/non-international dichotomy in international humanitarian law has proved susceptible to incredible political manipulation, often at the expense of humanitarian protection. Further considerations of substantive aspects of a single law of armed conflict will be essential in the development of greater humanitarian protection during internationalized armed conflict.

This paper is also available in Spanish, Russian and Arabic.

Keywords: Armed conflict, International Humanitarian Law, International Law

Suggested Citation

Stewart, James G., Towards a Single Definition of Armed Conflict in International Humanitarian Law: A Critique of Internationalized Armed Conflict (June 30, 2003). International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 850, pp. 313-350, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1946414

James G. Stewart (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law ( email )

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