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