A definition of an international or an internal armed conflict within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD is not provided by the QD itself. In Diakité, the CJEU interprets the concept of ‘internal armed conflict’ under Article 15(c) QD and concludes that it must be given an interpretation, which is autonomous from international humanitarian law:
…internal armed conflict exists, for the purposes of applying that provision, if a State’s armed forces confront one or more armed groups or if two or more armed groups confront each other. It is not necessary for that conflict to be categorised as ‘armed conflict not of an international character’ under international humanitarian law;
In Diakité, the CJEU sets a low threshold to assess whether an armed conflict is taking place, noting that,
nor is it necessary to carry out, in addition to an appraisal of the level of violence present in the territory concerned, a separate assessment of the intensity of the armed confrontations, the level of organisation of the armed forces involved or the duration of the conflict.
Furthermore, in the context of Article 15(c) QD, differentiation between ‘international’ or ‘internal’ armed conflict is not necessary, as the provision is equally applicable in situations of international and internal armed conflict.
It should also be noted that an armed conflict can be taking place only in parts of the territory.
As of 2020, there are multiple overlapping non-international (internal) and international armed conflicts taking place in Syria:
■ The government of Syria is involved in a non-international armed conflict with various anti-GoS armed groups, most notably HTS, the SNA and ISIL.
■ The US-led coalition against ISIL is in an international armed conflict with Syria, due to its military intervention in Syria without the consent of the GoS.
■ Syria is also in an international armed conflict with Turkey, who has carried out military operations against ISIL and Kurdish armed groups in Syria, and controls parts of northern Syria with the help of anti-government armed groups. Military confrontations between Syrian and Turkish armed forces took place during the conflict, most recently in March 2020.
■ Turkey is also engaged in a non-international conflict in Syria with YPG forces.
■ Syria is involved in an international armed conflict with Israel, who has been conducting airstrike on Iranian targets in Syria without the consent of the GoS.
[Security 2020, 1.1, 1.3]
The section Assessment by governorate provides further guidance with regard to the armed conflicts taking place on the territory of Syria.