International Humanitarian Law: Main categories of Armed Conflict

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There are traditional categories of armed conflicts that are described by International Humanitarian Law. There are new forms of hostilities as well that have been occurring over the last decade, such as transnational armed conflicts or hostilities involving “terrorist groups” or “purely criminal organisations”, like criminal gangs or drug dealers. These hostilities are sometimes difficult to reconcile with established legal categories. The two most important categories of armed conflicts are international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts. International armed conflicts involve the armed forces belonging to two or more sovereign States or international organisations. The term non-international armed conflicts are used to describe hostilities of a certain intensity between the armed forces of a State or an international organisation and an independent organised armed group or between two or more independent organised armed groups. Non-international armed conflicts are, themselves, subdivided into two categories: low-intensity non-international armed conflicts and high-intensity non-international armed conflicts. The category of low-intensity non-international armed conflicts describes conflicts between the armed forces of a State or an international organisation and independent organised armed groups or between two or more armed groups. The concept of a low-intensity non-international armed conflict dictates the scope of application of Common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions. Low and high-intensity non-international armed conflicts differ in two manners. The first difference is that, in the latter category, the organised armed groups must control a part of the territory of the State where the conflict is taking place. A second difference is that high-intensity non-international armed conflicts must be between the armed forces of a State and an independent organized armed group.

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