How the Red Cross defines a 'civil war'


Syrian children ride in the back of a truck as they return to their village of Kfar Sijna on July 10, 2012, the day after it came under fire by Syrian government forces. The Red Cross has officially classified the Syrian conflict as a civil war, in order to hold combatants to international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions.



The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Sunday that it now considers Syria to be in a state of internal armed conflict, or in other words, a civil war.

The classification of the conflict as a civil war can help lay the foundations for future prosecution for war crimes according to the Geneva Conventions, Reuters reported.

Previously, the Red Cross had only designated the fighting in Idlib, Homs and Hama as civil war, said the BBC, but since fighting has become so widespread in the country, all combatants will now officially be subject to the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions state that acts such as indiscriminate attacks on civilians and medical personnel, or the destruction of basic necessities such as water and electricity can be prosecuted as war crimes, the BBC reported.

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The ICRC said the Geneva Conventions "specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war."

- The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war.

- The second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.

- The third Geneva Convention defines the conditions and places in which prisoners of war can be held.

- The fourth Geneva Convention defines the protection of civilians during war, including on occupied territory.

- Common Article 3 applies to non-international armed conflicts, like the one in Syria, and establishes the fundamental rules of the Geneva Conventions for internal conflicts.

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International humanitarian law, also known as the rules of war, now apply to all fighting taking place in Syria, according to the Associated Press.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said, "What matters is that international humanitarian law applies wherever hostilities between government forces and opposition groups are taking place across the country," according to the BBC.

According to the ICRC, international humanitarian law "protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare."

In addition to the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law includes other agreements that cover the protection of cultural property, the use of conventional, chemical and biological weapons, and the rights of children in armed conflict.

The application of the rules of war to the Syrian conflict "means that people who order or commit attacks on civilians including murder, torture and rape, or use disproportionate force against civilian areas, can be charged with war crimes," said Reuters.