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Internal Armed Conflicts in International Humanitarian Law

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Internal Armed Conflicts in International Humanitarian Law


The Internal Armed Conflict is defined as organisation of citizens in groups to create violence that is more in intensity then sporadic acts for the purpose to overthrow the government. Here, the role of the military changes as the military then assists in law enforcement and at times attack citizens taking active part in hostilities.

Sources of Law

  1. Domestic Law of State
  2. International Law
    • Human Rights Law
    • Law of Armed Conflict

The above laws are applied according to the conflict that arises.

Need for Protections

The need for protection arises when there are greater civilian casualties in Internal Armed Conflict and centuries of restrictions on combatants in the issues relating to culture and religion and modern codification of law.

Common Article 3 of The Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949

Source: https://www.icrc.org/en/publication/0173-geneva-conventions-august-12-1949
  • Applies in all Internal Armed Conflicts.
  • Applies regardless of compliance by Armed Opposition Groups.
  • Question of application to armed opposition groups.

Who it protects?

It protects the persons NOT taking active part in hostilities:

  • Combatants who have laid down their arms
  • Wounded or sick combatants
  • Detained persons
  • The civilian population

Medical and religious personnel

Protections Provided

  • Humane treatment
  • No violence to life and person
  • No taking of hostages
  • No humiliating or degrading treatment
  • Trial only by regular court with judicial guarantees
  • All wounded and sick shall be cared for

Optional Assistance Of Impartial Humanitarian Body

Application of Common Article 3 does not affect legal status of opposing group

  • Citizens caught violating domestic law may be tried by regular court and punished.

Additional Protocol II

  • Binds only states party to it
  • Applies to internal armed conflict which:
    • Do not involve war of national liberation
    • Involve opposing groups under responsible command able to maintain discipline.
    • Involve opposing groups in control of national territory sufficient to carry out sustained and concerted military operations.

Additional Protocol II Prohibits

  • Violence to life, health, well-being
  • Collective punishment
  • Taking hostages
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Outrages upon personal dignity
  • Pillage
  • Threats to commit prohibited acts

Additional Protocol II Requires

  • Detained Persons:
    • Provided food and drinking water
    • Provided health and hygiene safeguards
    • Allowed to practice their religion
    • Equivalent work conditions and safeguards
    • Provided specified rights in criminal court
  • All Wounded, Sick or Shipwrecked
    • All possible measures to search and collect
    • Receive medical care to fully extent practical
    • Care provided based only on medical need
  • Medical Personnel, Units, Transport
    • Respected and protected
    • Not punished for providing care
    • Special rule when misused by enemy

Additional Protocol II Prohibits

Attack on:

  • The civilian population as a whole
  • Individual civilians
  • Unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities


  • Members of organised Armed Groups
    • Are not civilians taking a direct part in hostilities
    • Only those having a continuous combat function are members and therefore may be directly attacked at any time.
    • People having a continuous support function are not members and therefore may not be directly attacked at any time.
  • When in doubt as to whether or not a person:
    • Is a member of an organized armed group
    • Or is directly participating in hostilities

Additional Protocol II Also Prohibits

  • Displacing civilian population without provisions
  • Starvation of civilian population
  • Attack releasing dangerous forces
  • Attack on military use of historic monuments, art works, or places of worship

Additional Protocol II does not affect the status of fighters.

Additional Protocol I

The “Wars of National Liberation” are the armed conflict in which people are fighting against:

  • Colonial domination
  • Alien occupation, or
  • Racist regimes

In the exercise of their right of self-determination enshrined the UN Charter and Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning friendly relations. Additional Protocol I applies in Internal Armed conflict in States that are party to it. It questions when an Internal Armed Conflict is a war of National Liberation, if it applies to fighters and provides combatants immunity to fighters.

Other Applicable Law of Armed Conflict Agreements

Further Readings

  1. https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/resources/documents/interview/2012/12-10-niac-non-international-armed-conflict.htm
  2. https://casebook.icrc.org/glossary/internationalized-internal-armed-conflict
  3. https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1860&context=gjicl

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