Armed conflicts are contextualized into two different categories: international armed conflicts and domestic armed conflicts. International armed conflicts occur when there is conflict between two or more states. Domestic armed conflicts occur when there is conflict between a state and one or more non-state armed groups or among non-state armed groups. In international criminal law, prosecution for a war crime requires the existence of an armed conflict. Some war crimes require an international armed conflict, while others require only a domestic armed conflict.
Domestic armed conflicts do not include "situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature." They do include "armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups."
See e.g., Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S 507 (2004)
Further Reading: Michigan Journal of International Law Article on conflict recognition.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]