Research project

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflict

Principal Investigator
Professor Noam Lubell

Completing in 2020, this project was in partnership with the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Determining whether a situation of violence qualifies as an armed conflict, or not, is essential to determining the applicable legal framework. Given the significant differences between the law of armed conflict/international humanitarian law and international human rights law with respect to, for example, detention or the use of lethal force, conflict classification is of fundamental importance to those involved in, or affected by, a situation of violence.

As it stands, however, there is no central authority to which interested States, organisations, or individuals can refer to for guidance on this issue. As such, there is uncertainty as to whether specific situations qualify as armed conflicts, or not. This is where The Rule of Law in Armed Conflict website fits in. The RULAC website was a unique project developed to provide easily accessible and understandable information on current situations of violence throughout the world. It was run by the Geneva Academy and the University of Essex and provided up-to-date academic opinion as to whether a situation of violence constitutes an international armed conflict, a non-international armed conflict, or an internal disturbance/tension. Its intended audience was States and diplomats working at the United Nations, humanitarian actors, and other organisations working in affected areas.

In collaboration with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law & Human Rights, and under the supervision of senior staff at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, the team worked to classify contemporary situations of violence around the world, and the results of this work were published on the RULAC website.

This project provided students with significant experience working on conflict classification, partnership with well-respected organisations, and the opportunity to greatly develop expertise in the law of armed conflict and its practical application.


Project pdf


Students participating in this project were required to take the LW803: International Law of Armed Conflict module.

Project Outline

Phase 1: (November - December)

  • During this phase, students were expected to get up-to-speed on the legal issues relating to conflict classification.
  • This was facilitated by working on a contemporary situation of violence, and providing an initial outline as to the classification.

Phase 2: (January - March)

  • Students classified specific situations of violence, and prepared draft reports in this regard. Reports were submitted to supervisors for feedback and publication on a rolling basis.
  • The team and supervisors discussed and developed possible advocacy strategies, to help publicise the website and student reports.

Phase 3: (April - June)

  • Work continued to classify specific situations of violence, and prepared draft reports in this regard. Reports were submitted to supervisors for feedback and publication on a rolling basis.

Project supervisor

Project Output

The team worked to classify a number of contemporary situations of violence, and produce reports in this regard. The reports were published on the RULAC website. To the greatest extent possible, situations were assigned to students based on their own geographical or thematic interest.

The classification of some situations was relatively straightforward, while others were more complex. Tasks were assigned and reviewed on this basis. Thus, there was not a definitive list of outputs. Those situations that were analysed and found not to constitute situations of armed conflict were not published on the main RULAC website (which is restricted to armed conflict situations) but were published on an accompanying blog.

A research methodology and report template were in place. The team were supported by the project supervisors.

Professor Noam Lubell
“Classification of armed conflicts is one of the most complex areas of International Humanitarian Law and can have profound implications. Through this project, students will not only have a chance to understand the intricacies of this area of law, but also to apply it in practice to current armed conflicts, thus gaining further knowledge on the state of conflicts worldwide.”
Professor Noam Lubell Director, Essex Armed Conflict and Crisis Hub
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