This post is part of our book discussion on Djemila Carron’s “L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international“.
During the night of Thursday April 6 and Friday April 7 2017, the United States carried out airstrikes on a Syrian military base that had allegedly been used by the Syrian authorities to launch a chemical attack against its own population. As those airstrikes were, to the best of my knowledge, the first ones conducted by the United States that directly and deliberately targeted Syrian positions in Syria, the question that arose for many scholars, humanitarian actors and members of the military was the following: are the United States and Syria in an international armed conflict (IAC)? Or were they already engaged in such a conflict since the United States had been using force on the territory of Syria against the Islamic State since 2014? If there was no previous IAC between the United States and Syria on April 6, did those attacks add an IAC to the preexisting non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between the United States and the Islamic State? Did they transform (‘internationalize’) this preexisting NIAC into a IAC? Or should the attacks of April 6 and 7 fall outside the scope of international humanitarian law (IHL)?
Answering these questions, and more generally classifying hostilities, is crucial in international law. Indeed, rules applicable to an IAC – including the Geneva Conventions (GC), the first Additional Protocol (AP I), other treaties and provisions of international (and national) law and rules of customary law – create a legal framework significantly different from the one applicable in a NIAC or in the absence of a conflict. L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international explores what act or acts might trigger an IAC. It uses Article 2 common to the GC as its starting point since this provision states that each of the four GC:
“shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them”.
The notion of IAC being the main entry point for the application of the core treaties of IHL, and the concept of NIAC being closely linked to the one of IAC, means that understanding the triggering act of such a conflict is a preliminary question to almost any application of IHL. Read the rest of this entry…