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ICRC Commentary of Common Article 3: Some questions relating to organized armed groups and the applicability of IHL’

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the joint blog symposium hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross and arising out of the 5th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held at the European University Institute in Florence this summer.

I was asked during our workshop to discuss some questions related to non-state armed groups raised by the chapeau of Common Article 3 (In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions) and the 2016 ICRC Updated Commentary to Geneva Convention I.

It is well known that for there to be a non-international armed conflict, the violence must involve an organized armed group.  So one of the first questions to arise in this context is what degree of organization of the armed group is required in order to trigger the application of international humanitarian law (IHL)?  

The 2016 ICRC Commentary acknowledges that Article 3 does not provide a detailed definition of its scope of application, nor does it contain a list of criteria for identifying the situations in which it is meant to apply. It is however uncontroversial that armed groups must reach a certain level of organization so as to be bound by IHL. As the well known definition of armed conflicts in the ICTY 1995 decision in the Tadić case reminds: ‘[A]n armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State’ (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić (aka ‘Dule’), Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction (Appeals Chamber), ICTY (Case No. IT-94-1), 2 October 1995, §70).

How to determine the appropriate level of organization seems to be the difficult question. Read the rest of this entry…