The Deficiencies of International Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts of a 'Mixed' Character ?Towards a Single Law of Armed Conflict?

AuthorMarie-Claire Rush
PositionBCL (Hons) (NUI), LLM (Queen's University Belfast)
(2009) COLR
Marie-Claire Rush *
There is scarcely a portion of our globe that has not felt, at some time, the sting of
war and conflict. It is important to regard war as a global phenomenon and everyone has
an interest, indeed a moral obligation, to defend human dignity and security wherever it is
threatened. International Humanitarian Law or the Law of Armed Conflict is, like other
forms of international law, based primarily upon treaties and customary international law.
It constitutes a broad corpus of laws designed to regulate armed conflicts agreed to and
codified among states and their representatives. A state-centred focus is thus highly
visible throughout the content of the various provisions. Key to the applicability of
international humanitarian law is the classification of the conflict as being either
international or non-international in character. Unfortunately there remain significant
divergences between the two regimes with the latter suffering from a far less
comprehensive and satisfactory system of regulation. This ‘two-box’ approach,1 as it has
become known, is no longer adequate to deal with many current features of armed
conflict which have developed over the last thirty years to such a point where this
traditional dichotomy is now commonly regarded as redundant. Armed conflicts no
longer fit neatly into categories of ‘international’ or ‘non-international’ and many
conflicts now frequently contain a mixture of elements both international and non-
international, making the task of classification alone, highly complex. While it remains
doubtful that states would be willing to concede the application of a single body of law to
their internal conflicts, the acceptance of the full body of international humanitarian law
in mixed conflicts, would be a significant achievement in itself and would pave the way
towards a fuller extension of the law to non-international armed conflicts at some future
date. This essay lends its support to the academic commentators, judicial decisions and
legal developments which have made tentative yet valuable steps towards a gradual
erosion of the barrier between the two humanitarian law regimes. At the heart of this
ideology is the acceptance of a fundamental principle of ‘humanity’ and the
acknowledgement that regardless of whether a conflict is classified as international or
internal, all victims deserve to be treated humanely and with respect for their person.
* BCL (Hons) (NUI), LLM (Queen’s University Belfast).
1 Fenrick ‘The Development of the Law of Armed Conflict Through the Jurisprudence of the International
Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’ (1998) 3 Journal of Armed Conflict Law 197, 198.

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