Article: International Humanitarian Law

Categorization of Conflicts and the Minimum Threshold of Armed Violence

in International Humanitarian Law


Selahattin Esmer

23 May 2016


Designation of the qualification of the protracted conflict in Turkey or of its place in humanitarian law is directly related to the clarification of the level of violence defined as the “minimum threshold of armed violence” or “minimum threshold of armed conflict.” This matter and the threshold of armed conflict require a more comprehensive approach within the scope of non-international armed conflict or internal armed conflict, also known as civil war, based particularly on the ongoing conflict escalating in Kurdistan. This study firstly investigates the latest developments in international humanitarian law as well as the relationship between this legal field and international human rights law, then explains categories of armed conflict along with internal armed conflict or civil war that will substantially facilitate our identification and signification of the armed conflict between the PKK and security forces ongoing for more than 30 years in Turkey.

When we witness acts of cruelty, barbarity, atrocity and lawlessness in armed conflicts, we rightfully ask: “Do wars have laws too?” Turkey’s stand towards war or armed conflicts reminds us of a statement by an author: “When we talk about war, it means that we are not talking about law.” This indeed corresponds exactly to the mentality in force in Turkey. If there is a war, then, everything and all kinds of unlawfulness and rights violations can be seen permissible here like massacres, murders; indiscriminate killing of civilians, the elderly, children; forced migration, summary executions, enforced disappearances, torturing dead bodies, dragging the dead on the streets, naked display of the dead bodies of women guerillas, etc. There is no need to go further or back to see this. Solely looking into Silopi, Cizre and Sur would suffice. Nevertheless, we do know that wars have laws as well. There have been laws of war since ancient ages developing in parallel with wars. Not everything is “permissible” in wars. In fact, it will not be wrong to argue that the history of law of war is as old as the history of wars.

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