The objective qualification of non-international armed conflicts: A Colombian case study

Sebastian Machado, Guillermo Otálora Lozano


Armed conflict has raged in Colombia since at least the 1960’s, involving governmental forces, rebel groups, and paramilitary forces. The Uribe government (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 a ‘belligerency status’. From a legal point of view, the government’s fears were unfounded, since contemporary international humanitarian law does not require a formal for a situation to qualify as armed conflict. During the Uribe administration, efforts were made by the Ministry of Defense 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 a defining characteristic of international humanitarian law since 1949.



armed conflict; Colombia; FARC; international humanitarian law

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Copyright (c) 2012 Sebastian Machado, Guillermo Otálora Lozano

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