PHAP Online Learning Series on Humanitarian Law and Policy: Qualification of Armed Conflict and Determining the Applicable Law

Session description

Qualifying – or classifying – a situation as an international armed conflict (IAC) or non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is an important and often necessary step when determining whether the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) apply in a specific context. The application of IAC or NIAC rules to a given scenario is of significant consequence; for instance, under IHL the standards governing the use of lethal force in an IAC or NIAC are far more permissive than those that apply during peacetime. The basic distinction between IACs and NIACs is reflected in both treaty and customary law, and dictates which rules apply to a particular situation. For instance, the treaty rules regulating conduct of hostilities and the treaty rules addressing humanitarian access differ in an IAC as compared to a NIAC.

This session will provide an introduction to conducting a qualification analysis under IHL. It addressed such questions as:

  • What is the value or utility of such an exercise?
  • Who undertakes such an exercise and why? Is there a final arbiter of such an analysis?
  • What are the definitions of an IAC and a NIAC? Where does occupation fit in?
  • When does a situation of violence become an IAC or NIAC?
  • What are some of the challenges in qualifying a situation as an armed conflict?

These issues and challenges were picked up in the next session when two case studies were analyzed, with a focus on the technicalities of qualifying a situation and the relevance of such an exercise to humanitarian practitioners.

Learning objectives

  • Familiarity with the binary framework of IAC and NIAC.
  • Awareness of the relevance and utility of conducting a qualification analysis
  • Understanding of the definition of IAC and NIAC, and the consequences for various actors (i.e. military, humanitarian, etc.)
  • Familiarity with the threshold indicia relevant to IAC and NIAC
  • Ability to walk through a qualification analysis
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