Does intent play into the qualification of a conflict? For example, if Syria accidentally shoots a rocket into Turkey, is it automatically an international armed conflict because there are two State actors?
PHAP member, Lebanon
Answer posted: 12 July 2015
Common Article 2 to the Geneva Conventions defines an international armed conflict as an ‘armed conflict … between two or more of the High Contracting Parties’. It does not provide any threshold of applicability and the ICRC Commentary suggests that the Conventions apply even when there ‘is only a single wounded person as a result of the conflict’. The intention of the parties is not taken into consideration as the aim of the Geneva Conventions is to protect those affected by the conflict. This also explains why border skirmishes trigger the applicability of the Geneva Conventions (and the Additional Protocol I, if ratified by the State Party/ies). That being said, in practice, such a situation, that of border skirmishes or of unintentional hostile act, is unlikely to be treated by the parties as an international armed conflict triggering the applicability of international humanitarian law.
About the author
Noëlle Quénivet is Associate Professor in International Law at the University of the West of England.