The objective qualification of non-international armed conflicts : a Colombian case study
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Amsterdam Law Forum, Vol. 4, no. 1, Winter 2012, p. 58-77
Guillermo Otálora Lozano and Sebastián Machado
Armed conflict has raged in Colombia since at least the 1960s, involving governmental forces, rebel groups and paramilitary forces. The government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) declared that Colombia was not in a ‘state of armed conflict’ but was rather facing a ‘terrorist threat.’ This declaration was done in fear of conferring a political status to the armed groups and, most particularly, in fear that a recognition of armed conflict would open the possibility of endowing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with ‘belligerency status’. From a legal point of view, the government’s fears were unfounded, since contemporary international humanitarian law does not require formal recognition for a situation to qualify as armed conflict. During the Uribe administration, efforts were made by the Ministry of Defence to identify operational rules of engagement with precision, violations of international humanitarian law were publicly denounced and the apex courts adjudicated on issues of international humanitarian law. This seemingly paradoxical situation illustrates the importance of the objective definition of armed conflict, which has been an essential characteristic of international humanitarian law since 1949.