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

CONTEXT

In the past few years, there has been an increase of the occurrence of so-called non-international conflicts, i.e. conflicts opposing states to armed non-State actors (ANSAs), or between ANSAs themselves.

In 2018, according to our War Report, at least 69 armed conflicts occurred on the territory of 30 states, of which 51 had a non-international character. Many violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international humanitarian law (IHRL) are committed by ANSAs.

In this context, the international community has called for more sustained engagement of these non-State actors on IHL and IHRL, pointing at the need for such engagement in order to enhance the protection of civilians. ANSAs have become key actors in contemporary conflicts and not engaging them may have detrimental impacts on both humanitarian assistance and protection.

Although it is undisputed that ANSAs are bound by IHL, how they understand, interpret or are able to actually implement their international obligations has not yet been scientifically explored. While a number of studies have analysed states’ practice on international law – notably the 2005 ICRC study on customary IHL – ANSAs’ views have generally been neglected from legal studies. This State-centric “top-down” approach to ANSAs’ international obligations, employed without inquiring into their actual practice and interpretation of the rules binding upon them, may explain the lack of ownership of, and compliance with, international law by these actors. Indeed, there is an increasing sense that ANSAs’ compliance with humanitarian norms is likely to improve if they are more actively consulted about the creation and implementation of the rules they are expected to abide by.

THE RESEARCH

This research project builds on these trends and explores ANSAs’ practice and interpretation of IHL and IHRL.

Through a comparative analysis of selected norms, it seeks to generate a better understanding of their perspectives and inform future humanitarian protection strategies. Specifically, it will examine ANSAs’ perspectives on the following core norms:

i) protection of civilians from attacks

ii) use of landmines and other explosive devices

iii) humanitarian access (and denial thereof)

iv) the prohibition of using and recruiting children in hostilities

v) the prohibition of forced displacement

vi) the special protection of certain objects, such as cultural property and the environment

vii) deprivation of liberty

viii) the prohibition of sexual violence

ix) the protection of health care, with a special focus on the protection of persons with disabilities

x) the protection of education

xi) fair trial and administration of justice.

OBJECTIVE

This project aims at compiling and analysing the practice and interpretation of selected IHL and human rights norms by 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 guidelines for engagement with these actors.

METHODOLOGY

ANSAs’ practices and views will be collected through available unilateral engagements, public declarations, special agreements and peace treaties. In addition, field research and interviews with selected ANSAs will also be conducted, notably in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mali, Somaliland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, Myanmar, Lebanon and Syria.

PARTNERSHIP

This project is conducted in partnership with the Swiss NGO Geneva Call and with Professor Badawi of the American University of Cairo

RESEARCHERS

Picture of Annyssa Bellal

Annyssa Bellal

Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law

Annyssa Bellal's areas of expertise include public international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and armed non-state actors.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Case Study: The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad, MNLA), Mali

March 2021

Annyssa Bellal, Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; Geneva Call

Download >

Cover of the publication

Case Study: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, FARC-EP)

March 2021

Annyssa Bellal, Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; Geneva Call

Download >

Cover of the publication

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

December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

Cover of the In-Brief N°7

Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council

December 2016

Annyssa Bellal

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

Cover of the Policy Briefing No1: Reactions to Norms Armed Groups and the Protection of Civilians

Reactions to Norms Armed Groups and the Protection of Civilians

January 2014

Alice Priddy

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download > Download >

Cover of the Rules of Engagement: Protecting Civilians through Dialogue with Armed Non-State Actors

Rules of Engagement: Protecting Civilians through Dialogue with Armed Non-State Actors

October 2011

Annyssa Bellal, Stuart Casey-Maslen

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

NEWS AND UPCOMING EVENTS

FARC fighters in Colombia News

‘From Words to Deeds’: Groundbreaking Studies on FARC-EP and MNLA and Dedicated New Website

9 March 2021

The first of a longer series aimed at producing a global comparative analysis, they provide a unique insight on how two armed non-State actors perceive international humanitarian law and some selected rules contained therein.

Read more >

Fighters in Libya News

10 Years of Expertise on Armed Non-State Actors

25 February 2021

We have been conducting research for more than 10 years on armed non-State actors, and continue to do so via two leading projects.

Read more >

Portrait of Annyssa Bellal News

Meet our Researchers: Annyssa Bellal

20 February 2020

Dr Annyssa Bellal is a Senior Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy and our Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law (IHL). She currently works on a research project on armed groups and IHL.

Read more >

Past Events

Taking Armed Non-State Actors Into Account: An Assessment of their Humanitarian Commitments

4 November 2020, 10:00-10:50

Read more >

Non-State Armed Groups and IHL

12 December 2019, 13:00-14:00

Read more >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

FARC fighters in Colombia News

‘From Words to Deeds’: Groundbreaking Studies on FARC-EP and MNLA and Dedicated New Website

9 March 2021

The first of a longer series aimed at producing a global comparative analysis, they provide a unique insight on how two armed non-State actors perceive international humanitarian law and some selected rules contained therein.

Read more

Fighters in Libya News

10 Years of Expertise on Armed Non-State Actors

25 February 2021

We have been conducting research for more than 10 years on armed non-State actors, and continue to do so via two leading projects.

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

The UN Security Council Short Course

Introduction to Public International Law and Subjects of the International Legal Order

Fall 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, focuses on the role of public international law in international relations and on international legal persons.

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

Spring 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Started in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

Read more

On the screen, on the screen is Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), briefing the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions. Project

International Humanitarian Law and the United Nations Security Council

Started in January 2020

Read more

cover of the publication Publication

Military Briefing: Persons with Disabilities and Armed Conflict

published on March 2021

Alice Priddy

Read more

Cover page of the Briefing Publication

Room for Manoeuvre? Promoting International Humanitarian Law and Accountability While at the United Nations Security Council: A Reflection on the Role of Elected Members

published on October 2020

Émilie Max

Read more