Editor’s Note: This post is part of the joint series of posts hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross (blog of the International Committee of the Red Cross) and arising out of the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this summer.
This post is a response to Professor Sarah Cleveland’s post on the Columbia-based Harmonization Project that Professor Cleveland and Sir Daniel Bethlehem are leading. That project explores the potential for applying the law of international armed conflict (IAC) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), as a means of developing the law applicable in the latter. The conclusion of the project is that the large majority of the rules applicable in IACs can be transplanted into NIACs without amendment and that this should be done by States either multilaterally or via unilateral declarations.
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.
The Harmonization Project declares its goal as being to build upon current obligations in NIACs—it is limited to IHL and does not seek to make a claim regarding the relationship between IHL and human rights law. However, it seems to me that one cannot avoid such questions when considering proposals for developing the law of NIAC. Indeed, if one’s goal is further to humanise NIACs (as the Harmonization Project’s seems to be) then one must tread carefully in proposing the extension of IHL in toto to NIACs. As David Kretzmer has shown, far from increasing protections, this method could in fact undermine existing protections. Read the rest of this entry…