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Timelines, borderlines and conflicts: The historical evolution of the legal divide between international and non-international armed conflicts

31-03-2009 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 873, by Rogier Bartels

The legal divide between international and non-international armed conflicts still exists, despite calls for its removal and the confusion created by 'transnational' conflicts involving non-state entities. This article explains the divide historically, discusses its continued relevance, and examines how certain situations could be classified in the existing typology.

   

Rogier Bartels is legal adviser at the International Humanitarian Law Division of the Netherlands Red Cross, and PhD researcher in the University of Amsterdam’s research programme on ‘The Role of Law in Armed Conflict and Peace Operations’. 
 
Abstract 
Calls have been made in recent years for the legal distinction between international and non-international armed conflicts to be removed. Also as of late, confusion regarding the applicable legal regime has been created by so-called transnational conflicts involving non-state entities. These situations do not fit naturally into the two traditional types of armed conflict recognized by IHL from 1949 onwards. The present article centres on how the legal divide that still exists between international and noninternational armed conflict can be explained historically. It aims to further the discussion on whether such a distinction is still relevant, as well as on how certain   situations could be classified in the existing typology of IHL.  


 
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