In 2017, 55 situations of armed violence amounted to armed conflicts according to the definitions under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law (ICL). The vast majority were non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), as in preceding years. The analysis highlights two salient features: the multiplication of armed non-state actors (ANSAs) and unprecedented casualties linked to armed gang violence.
The 160 page War Report 2017 identiﬁes, describes and discusses the situations of armed violence that amounted in 2017 to armed conﬂicts, in accordance with the deﬁnitions under IHL and ICL.
In 2017, 55 armed conflicts occurred in 29 states and territories: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Eritrea, Georgia, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Western Sahara and Yemen.
Comparison with The War Report 2016 shows that at least six new armed conflicts started in 2017: a NIAC between Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation; a NIAC between the DRC (with the support of MONUSCO) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-Nalu); three short-lived international armed conflicts (IACs) between Libya and Egypt, Israel and Syria, as well as Turkey and Iraq; and the military occupation of Syria by Turkey.
The report highlights that the majority of today’s armed conflicts are NIACs involving states and organized armed groups, a trend that has been highlighted since the first edition of The War Report back in 2012.
In 2017, a total of 38 NIACs occurred in the territory of 21 states: Afghanistan, Colombia, the DRC, Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen.
Specific sections analyse recent developments or particular aspects of the NIACs in Afghanistan, Colombia, Libya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Turkey Somalia and Yemen.
‘The qualification of some of these conflicts as NIACs is controversial and subject to discussion, like the conflicts in Myanmar where we looked at the Ethnic Armed Organizations’ degree of organization and level of violence’ stresses Dr Annyssa Bellal, Strategic Adviser on IHL at the Geneva Academy and Editor of The War Report 2017.
In 2017, IACs involving sovereign states were taking place in the territory of 6 states: between India and Pakistan, Ukraine and Russia, as well as between Syria and the different states belonging to the United States-led coalition in Syria.
In addition, there have been a series of short-lived IACs between Libya and Egypt, Israel and Syria, as well as Turkey and Iraq.
Belligerent occupations continued in parts of ten states and territories: Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Eritrea, Georgia, Lebanon, Moldova, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine and Western Sahara.
‘With the exception of Turkey’s occupation of Syria and Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, these are long-term occupations that have lasted for decades, as in the case of Cyprus, Eritrea, Palestine or Western Sahara’ underlines Annyssa Bellal.
‘Perhaps more than in previous years, we observed a multiplication of ANSAs in the 38 NIACs that took place in 2017, and their involvement in several armed conflicts’ underlines Annyssa Bellal. ‘The armed conflicts in Syria and Libya are, in this respect, emblematic examples of this trend, which highlights the necessity to analyse the links between these different groups across various conflicts’.
The section on ‘Kurdish Military Formations in Middle Eastern Battlefields’ precisely examines the dynamics and alliances between the various Kurdish groups in the Middle East – the PKK in Turkey, the YPG/YPJ in Syria and the Peshmerga in Iraq.
The War Report 2017 highlights – via the classification of violence related to urban gangs in Mexico and Colombia as armed conflicts, and via dedicated sections looking at gang violence in Colombia, Mexico and El Salvador – the unprecedented level of violence and casualties related to this phenomenon.
While this is not new, the violence is unprecedented in terms of casualties and the form it takes: armed gangs often use heavy weaponry, and some control sizeable territory and have the ability to conduct military operations, while the military is frequently involved in their repression. The number of civilian casualties linked to gang violence and state responses to this violence, might also exceed those of major current armed conflicts
‘The qualification of these situations of violence as NIACs is controversial and subject to discussion: in the cases of Mexico and Colombia, it is the degree of gangs’ organization, the nature of the clashes and the level of casualties that triggered their classification as armed conflicts’ underlines Annyssa Bellal.
The War Report 2017 also analyses the situation in El Salvador, but does not classify it as an armed conflict as the level of organization of the armed gangs arguably does not meet the IHL and ICL criteria.
The 2018 edition of The War Report will notably look at developments in North Korea, violence related to urban gangs, such as in Brazil and Honduras, as well as the situation in the Central African Republic, in the DRC and in the Sahel, where a new French-backed force known as the G5 Sahel – comprising troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – was created at the end of 2017.
The War Report is an essential reference for experts, governments, policy-makers, NGOs, international organizations, donors, international courts and tribunals, judges and lawyers who work on human rights, humanitarian issues and peace or security.
Together with the Geneva Academy’s Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal, The War Report is the only independent global classification of armed conflicts under international law. ‘Such independent classification is essential as it has far-reaching implications, notably regarding applicable law, the commission of war crimes or the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’ underlines Robert Roth, Director of the Geneva Academy.
‘The classification of a situation of armed violence under international law is an objective legal test and not a decision left to national governments or any international body, not even the UN Security Council’ he adds.
Dr Annyssa Bellal is Strategic Adviser on international humanitarian law at the Geneva Academy and the Editor of the War Report 2017.
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