Joint series: Developing the law of non-international armed conflict

Colombia has been engaged in a non-international armed conflict with armed groups since the 1960s. Copyright ICRC/VII, F. Pagetti

Colombia has been engaged in a non-international armed conflict with armed groups since the 1960s. Copyright ICRC/VII, F. Pagetti

In the sixth post of our joint series with Lawfare and EJIL: Talk!, today, Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne, responds to Monday's post by Sarah Cleveland about the potential for applying the rules that must be observed in an international armed conflict (IAC) to a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). Lawrence is a Lecturer in Law and Programme Director of the LLMs in International Law and Human Rights at the University of Reading in the UK. He has a DPhil in International Law from the University of Oxford (where a workshop took place this summer that inspired this series) and his research interests lie in international humanitarian law, human rights law, international criminal law, and relationship of these different areas to general international law.

Read his post on the blog of the European Journal of International Law - EJIL: Talk!

Here's a taste: 

A detailed, rule-by-rule consideration of the degree to which parity between the law of IAC and NIAC is practicable is a very useful endeavour. Indeed, historically this has been the method by which the law of NIAC has developed. It is clear why this should have been the case. When the first international humanitarian law (IHL) treaties were adopted in the mid-nineteenth century, international law was still, by and large, a law governing inter-State relations. Matters that did not directly engage such relations, including NIACs, were thus generally excluded. Customary rules did of course develop to govern certain NIACs, such as the doctrine of belligerency, but these often applied only where another, non-party State was affected by the conflict.
As international law expanded to include the regulation of purely intra-State matters (reflected in human rights instruments, as well as the Genocide Convention, adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War), this basis for marginalising NIACs began to fall away. Rules traditionally applicable only in IACs could now move over into NIACs. And indeed this is what has happened: common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II were based on the law of IAC. This is also true of the customary rules recognised by the ICTY and ICRC.
It is therefore only natural that we should look to the law of IAC in developing the law of NIAC. This post, however, will offer some words of caution in adopting this method of humanising NIACs. In particular, it will be argued that both general and specific arguments militate against this supposedly self-evident means by which to develop the law of NIAC.

Other posts in this series:

Introduction by the ICRC's Tracey Begley

Lawfare's Bobby Chesney on when IHL ceases to apply

Canadian expert, Ken Watkin, on the overlap of IHL and IHRL Part I

Ken Watkin Part II

Columbia Law School's Sarah Cleveland on harmonizing standards in armed conflict