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Analysis finds confusion over 'armed conflicts'

Posted: December 10, 2013 8:39 a.m.
Updated: December 10, 2013 8:39 a.m.
 

GENEVA (AP) — Armed conflicts killed at least 95,000 people and wounded hundreds of thousands more last year but few of them led to any punishment for war crimes because the laws are unclear, a Swiss-based think tank said Tuesday.

In a new analysis aimed at clearing the way for more war crimes prosecutions, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law determined there were at least 38 armed conflicts in 24 nations and territories in 2012, including Syria's civil war, based on their interpretation of international humanitarian law.

Academics who conducted the research say there was little justice because of lack of agreement or confusion over what qualifies as an armed conflict under international humanitarian law such as the Geneva Conventions.

"It is not always clear when a situation is an armed conflict, and hence when war crimes can be prosecuted," said Andrew Clapham, an international law professor who directs the academy.

Stuart Maslen, a lawyer and head of research at the academy, said the analysis, published as a 500-page book, is the first formal, public attempt to classify all the world's armed conflicts in a calendar year, according to a firm set of legal criteria. He said there's no authoritative body that determines if something is an armed conflict.

The classications are important, Maslen said, because "the rules governing the lethal use of force are broadly speaking, significantly more permissive once an armed conflict exists than in a situation of law enforcement."

Determining whether something is an armed conflict also is important, he said, because war crimes are committed— and the perpetrators can be held accountable — only in connection with recognizable armed conflicts, and because it helps determine the level of access for humanitarian aid workers.

About 55,000 people were killed in Syria last year, the academy said. The next highest casualties were in Mexico, with 9,000, and Afghanistan, with 7,500.

Countries including Turkey, Mexico and Thailand do not recognize armed conflicts on their territory, the study said. But there were a few instances in which the law prevailed last year, such as when Britain and the U.S. prosecuted troops for war crimes in Afghanistan.

The analysis found only one international armed conflict last year — between Sudan and South Sudan — but said it could be argued that the conflict between the United States and Pakistan over drones would qualify as a second one.

Nine of the armed conflicts, the analysis said, involved continuing military occupations: in Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Eritrea, Georgia, Lebanon, Moldova, Palestine, Syria and Western Sahara.

But most of them — 27 armed conflicts in 24 nations and territories — were "non-international" because they involved the governments and armed groups within their borders.

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