Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Completed in March 2021

Background

From Syria to Mali, Afghanistan, or Yemen, the majority of today’s armed conflicts are non-international in character and involve one or several armed non-state actors (ANSAs). These often control territory and persons for a prolonged time and are involved in human rights violations. In these contexts, human rights monitoring mechanisms usually have restricted or no access at all.

International humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) share certain common objectives, but they differ in their scopes of application. IHRL applies at all times, while IHL applies only in cases of armed conflict. ANSAs which are parties to a conflict are subject to the obligations imposed by IHL. However, less legal clarity exists regarding the extent to which they are also legally bound to respect human rights in situations that are not covered by IHL or where IHL does not provide adequate guidance.

Up to now, it is still unclear and difficult to establish whether ANSAs’ IHRL obligations are anchored in some form of law or practice emerging from the resolutions adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Council. The issue of accountability and reparation for human rights violations committed by ANSAs is also a critical point of the debate. Apart from individual criminal responsibility, there is currently no judicial or quasi-judicial international mechanism to hold ANSAs per se accountable under IHRL.

The lack of a clear legal framework defining which human rights obligations are applicable to ANSAs as well as the absence of mechanisms ensuring monitoring, accountability, and reparation thus affects the effective implementation and respect of the human rights of persons living under the control of ANSAs.

Objective

Looking into the human rights responsibilities of ANSAs, this project began in 2017 and originally aimed at igniting States’ interest in addressing the issue – either through the development of a non-binding document and/or the adoption of a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.

From 2019 onwards, the next phase of the project focused on supporting interested independent mandate holders in the drafting, publication, and dissemination of a joint statement on the human rights responsibilities of ANSAs.

Research Team

This research project was carried out by Dr Annyssa Bellal, Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on IHL at the Geneva Academy, and Emilie Max, Researcher at the Geneva Academy.

PROJECT'S DOCUMENTS

NEWS

M-13 combatttants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo News

New Publication Explores State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed by Armed Non-State Actors in its Territory

25 February 2019

Part of our multi-year project that focuses on human rights responsibilities and armed non-state actors (ANSAs), our new publication explores the particular aspects of state responsibility for human rights violations committed by ANSAs in its territory.

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Vover page of the In-Brief No.7 Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council  News

How the UN Human Rights Council Addresses Armed Non-State Actors: Key Challenges and Way Forward

9 February 2017

Ten years after the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council, our new publication highlights the current challenges related to the Council’s approach to armed non-state actors and proposes recommendations to better address this phenomenon.

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OUTPUT

Exploring the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council Towards ANSAs

Our publication Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council starts by describing the legal framework applicable to ANSAs and by addressing the controversy about whether or not these actors have human rights obligations under international law. It then explores the practice of the UN Human Rights Council makes recommendations that may be of interest to states, NGOs, and other stakeholders, including when they negotiate resolutions for adoption by the HRC.

Clarifying States' Responsibilities for Human Rights Violations Committed by ANSAs in Their Territory

The publication State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed in the State Territory by Armed Non-State Actors explores the particular aspects of state responsibility for human rights violations committed by ANSAs in its territory. The publication notably details the notion of de facto authority and the positive human rights obligations of states having lost control of (part of) their territory.

A Statement by Over 40 UN Independent Experts on the Human Rights Responsibilities of ANSAs

The research team supported interested independent mandate holders in the drafting, publication, and dissemination of a joint statement on the human rights responsibilities of ANSAs.

Published on 25 January 2021, the statement was ultimately signed by over 40 (!) independent experts representing 28 special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. Focusing on armed conflicts and other situations of violence, it highlights the far-reaching negative human rights impact of ANSAs on rights’ holders while providing recommendations to states and other stakeholders in view of safeguarding the human rights of individuals from transgression by ANSAs.

The joint statement was launched/discussed during a virtual side-event to the 46th session of Human Rights Council, which was co-organized by the Geneva Academy, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (mandates of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland.

Publications

Cover page of the publication

State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed in the State Territory by Armed Non-State Actors

December 2018

Tatyana Eatwell

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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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

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Past Events

Human Rights Responsibilities of Armed Non-State Actors

5 March 2021, 13:00-14:30

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

News

Call for Papers: The Human Rights Impacts of Discrimination and Inequalities

19 May 2021

In the context of the 2021 Human Rights Week and its academic colloquium, graduate and postgraduate researchers who obtained their PhD within the past ten years are invited to submit proposals that explore the different facets of discriminations and inequalities and discuss their human rights impact.

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View of a session of the UN Human Rights Committee News

The GHRP Contributes to the Development of the UN Treaty Body Impact Database 2020+

20 April 2021

The Geneva Human Rights Platform is collaborating with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and OHCHR in the development of an online database aimed at assessing the impact of the UN human rights treaty body system.

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Portrait of Dr Helen Durham Event

Opening Lecture – Respect for International Humanitarian Law in the 21st Century: Utopian Dream or Pragmatic Reality?

18 October 2021, 18:00-19:30

Dr Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the ICRC, will address the legal, operational and political imperative of the international community continuing to work towards the application and implementation of IHL.

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 Taliban fighters on a truck in Kabul, August 17 2021 Event

Afghanistan

28 October 2021, 15:00-16:00

This online IHL talk aims at shining light on some of the many legal, political and protection-related challenges stemming from the situation in Afghanistan.

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Ukraine, damaged bicycle and car in front of a destroyed building Short Course

Protection of Persons and Property in International Armed Conflict

18 November - 23 December 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, examines the conduct of hostilities in situations of international armed conflict, also known as the Law of The Hague.

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Prison visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Haiti Short Course

The Implementation of International Human Rights Law

16 December - 14 January 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, aims at presenting the institutions and procedures in charge of the implementation of international human rights law.

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

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Completed 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.

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Un plate with Rapporteur Spécial written on it Project

Support to UN Special Procedures

Started in June 2020

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Cover of the publication Publication

The UN Security Council and Common Article 1: Understanding the Role of Peacekeeping Operations in Ensuring Respect for IHL

published on October 2021

Émilie Max

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