‘International Armed Conflict’ in Syria

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The International Committee of the Red Cross has announced that the situation in Syria now “amounts to an international armed conflict” after U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

Due to the use of force by the US-led coalition and Turkey against the Islamic State group in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government, there is an international armed conflict in Syria.

There is an international armed conflict between Syria and the US-led coalition and Turkey. Targeting the Islamic State group in Syria, the US-led coalition consists of Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Jordan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Outside the coalition, Turkey is also undertaking airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State group and Kurdish militia. As the military intervention takes place without the consent of the Syrian government, there is an international armed conflict in Syria.

The classification of the military intervention as an international armed conflict due to the use of force without the consent of Syria does not affect the classification of the armed conflict against the Islamic State group, which remains non-international in character. The operations against the Islamic State group can be considered a single non-international armed conflict that extends across Syria and Iraq.

In response to Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the United States conducted missiles strikes against a Syrian Air Force airfield on 7 April 2017. Targeting Syrian government facilities, such a use force amounts to a short-lived international armed conflict.

For an international armed conflict to exist, there must have been a resort to armed force involving at least two states. Unlike for non-international armed conflicts, there is no requirement for the violence to reach a certain threshold for international armed conflicts.

Applicable law:

Syria, Turkey, the United States and the other members of the coalition are party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Syria, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom are also a party to the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to international armed conflicts.

In addition, they are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable international armed conflicts.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict.

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