New ICRC Opinion Paper on Legal Classification of Armed Conflict

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

The ICRC has published a new 2024 Opinion Paper explaining their approach in legally classifying contemporary armed conflicts. It is intended to make the ICRC’s methodology for classification accessible and transparent for all who are interested in the subject.

The last time that the ICRC published an Opinion Paper on this matter was 2008. Since 2008, the ICRC has observed several transformations with regard to how armed actors participate in armed conflicts. These transformations, as well as how the law adapts to them, are outlined in this 2024 paper which shares the methodology involved in determining several legal issues related to classification, including, for example:

  • When an International Armed Conflict (IAC) or a Non-International Armed Conflict (NIAC) exists and when it can be considered to have come to an end;
  • The classification of an IAC by proxy;
  • How to identify parties in conflicts that involve multinational forces;
  • The classification of NIACs involving coalitions;
  • The support-based approach;
  • The incorporation of an armed group into a state Party;
  • The geographical scope of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during NIACs.

For those who have been following the debate on these topics including the ICRC’s publications on the Law and Policy blog, its Challenges Reports and commentaries to the Geneva Conventions, this paper does not contain many surprises but it is useful to have the positions bundled together in one place.

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