10 Years of Expertise on Armed Non-State Actors

From Syria to Mali, Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the majority of today’s armed conflicts are non-international in character and involve one or several armed non-state actors (ANSAs).

ANSAs are key players in today’s armed conflicts. They directly impact civilian populations and pose an increasing global challenge for States and non-State actors, such as humanitarian NGOs. Yet, the international community often struggles to understand and engage with them.

Moving Beyond a State-Centric Approach and Developing a New Field of Academic Research

While it is not controversial that international humanitarian law (IHL) applies to ANSAs this, however, has largely assumed a ‘top-down’ approach of the international legal system, employed to impose international obligations on ANSAs without considering their actual views or interpretation of the rules, or their capacity to implement them. This trend may in turn explain the lack of ownership of, and compliance with, international law by these actors.

To address these issues, the Geneva Academy started researching on ANSAs back in 2009 via a series of projects, which:

These projects and their outputs were not only based on solid academic research, but were also policy-driven and considered the views of practioners, NGOs, international organizations as well as States. The UN Secretary-General relied on the results of our research in his 2010 report on the protection of civilians (at para 54).

‘We also mainstream the question of ANSAs in all our research, teaching and training on armed conflict, including in our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal, which provides, for each non-international armed conflict, a detailed analysis of the various ANSAs involved’ underlines Professor Gloria Gaggioli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

Current Focus

As one of the leading research institutions on the study of ANSAs, we continue to work on this issue via two dedicated research projects.

The first project aims at finding policy solutions to the difficult theme of human rights obligations of ANSAs.

The second will potentially impact the scientific and broader international community by:

  • Increasing knowledge of ANSAs’ perceptions and understanding of their international obligations
  • Providing tools to humanitarian organizations to engage with and encourage ANSAs to abide by the law
  • Informing future international law-making processes by considering these key actors’ views and capacities.
Colombia,  Mountains in the Valle del Cauca region, between Santander de Quilichao et Popayan. FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) combattant.

A Unique Expertise on ANSAs

Our Strategic Adviser on IHL and Senior Research Fellow Dr Annyssa Bellal is recognized worldwide as a leading expert on ANSAs. She is the author of several publications on this issue and is regularly invited at conferences and experts meetings to discuss the different aspects of ANSAs’ impact on international law and relations.

Her intervention before the United Nations Security Council for the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions highlighted, as contemporary challenges in armed conflicts, the prevalence of non-international armed conflicts and the need to increase ownership of humanitarian norms among ANSAs.

In 2020, the Geneva Academy received through Dr Bellal a major grant from UKRI to conduct, in collaboration with Geneva Call, research on ANSAs and their practice and interpretation of IHL and human rights norms.

Dr Annysa Bellal during her intervention before the Un Security Council

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Portrait of Tamara Aburamadan News

LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights: What our Students Say

16 December 2020

Tamara Aburamadan, currently enrolled in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, tells us about the programme and life in Geneva.

Read more

View over Bunia, Ituri, DRC News

DRC: A New Conflict in Ituri involving the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO)

13 April 2021

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of this conflict, including information about parties and applicable international law.

Read more

View of Villa Moynier Event

Open House: Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict

16 June 2021, 12:30-13:30

Join us for our open house to learn more about this part-time programme designed professionals, meet staff, students and alumni, and discuss career opportunities.

Read more

An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

30 April - 21 May 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Read more

Syria,  Aleppo, great Umayyad mosque. Destructions. Short Course

The Interplay between International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Winter 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, focuses on the specific issues that arise in times of armed conflict regarding the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It addresses key issues like the applicability of human rights in times of armed conflict; the possibilities of restricting human rights under systems of limitations and derogations; and the extraterritorial application of human rights law.

Read more

Central African Republic, Ouham province, village of Ouogo. International Humanitarian Law dissemination session to members of the Peoples' Army for the Restoration of Democracy. Project

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

Started in January 2017

This project aims at compiling and analysing the practice and interpretation of selected international humanitarian law and human rights norms by armed non-state actors (ANSAs). It has a pragmatic double objective: first, to offer a comparative analysis of IHL and human rights norms from the perspective of ANSAs, and second, to inform strategies of humanitarian engagement with ANSAs, in particular the content of a possible ‘Model Code of Conduct’.

Read more

A session of the UN Human Rights Committtee at Palais Wilson Project

Implementing International Humanitarian Law Through Human Rights Mechanisms

Started in April 2019

Resulting from traditional legal research and informal interviews with experts, the project aims at examining how – if at all possible – IHL could be more systematically, appropriately and correctly dealt with by the human rights mechanisms emanating from the Charter of the United Nations, as well from universal and regional treaties.

Read more

cover of the publication Publication

Military Briefing: Persons with Disabilities and Armed Conflict

published on March 2021

Alice Priddy

Read more