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International humanitarian law: what scope of application in contemporary conflicts?

18-10-2012 News Release 12/206

Brussels (ICRC) – The 13th Bruges Colloquium, organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the College of Europe, will bring together researchers, university professors and experts from governments and international organizations on 18 and 19 October in the Belgian city.

They will consider challenges, identified in recent armed conflicts, relating to the scope of application of international humanitarian law.

"Before raising the issue of compliance with international humanitarian law, it is important to clearly determine at what point this particular branch of international law becomes applicable," said François Bellon, who heads the ICRC delegation for the European Union, NATO and Belgium. "In what circumstances is there a situation of armed conflict? When can it be said that a conflict begins or ends? Now more than ever, we need to shed light on these grey areas."

The constant development and increasing complexity that have characterized forms of armed conflict since the beginning of the 21st century raise many questions about the current scope of application of international humanitarian law. The international experts from 20 countries will be considering these issues at the colloquium.

"A number of conflicts nowadays, such as those in Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia can be said to have multiple implications for many different regions of the world," said Mr Bellon. "Is that reason enough to speak of a 'worldwide battlefield'? If so, how are we to consider the application of international humanitarian law in such cases?"

"Similarly, the wide range of parties involved in an armed conflict sometimes makes it hard to determine the status of the protection afforded by international humanitarian law," he said. "We therefore deem it essential to discuss these delicate matters very openly with specialists and practitioners in order to advance the law in a way that may help conflict victims."

As part of their work with the European Union and NATO, the ICRC and the College of Europe have held a colloquium on international humanitarian law every year since 2000 (for further information:

For further information, please contact:
Thomas Vanden Driessche, ICRC Brussels, tel: +32 2 286 58 70 or +32 478 24 00 51