From Words to Deeds: Exploring the Practice of Armed Non-State Actors and its Impact on the Implementation of International Law

Started in January 2017

Context

An increasing number of international organizations and non-governmental organizations recognize the need to engage armed non-state actors (ANSAs) as a means of enhancing their respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law.

The reasons for ANSAs’ lack of compliance with international law are diverse. They include, sometimes, sheer ignorance of the law and a lack of incentives to abide by the rules. Furthermore, while the state still has the primary responsibility to respect and ensure respect for international law in its territory, in some instances circumstances might not allow it to do so in practice. This is the case when a certain part of a state’s territory is outside its control for a prolonged period of time or when the state’s structures have totally collapsed. In these cases, the lack of clarity of the applicable legal framework weakens accountability and the possibility of obtaining reparations for the victims.

Objectives

It is not uncommon for ANSAs to argue that either they have a different understanding and interpretation of international norms or they lack the capacity to implement them. Furthermore, certain ANSAs can express their commitment to a rule to which they are not in principle bound by international law (for example, the commitment not to use anti-vehicle mines or to abstain from using anti-personnel mines).

From a theoretical point of view, while international customary law is formed by state practice and opinio juris, reflecting on the practice and views of ANSAs is not deprived of a certain level of normativity. In fact, ANSAs might feel bound by the norms that they have agreed upon rather than by international treaties or international customary norms, as they did not participate in their elaboration. In this regard, the norms emerging from their own practice might have a higher chance of being implemented.

Against this background, this project aims to understand and study the practice and views of ANSAs on key norms of IHL and human rights law. It will also provide an outlook on the norms that are accepted or rejected by ANSAs, with a view to ensuring a better implementation of international law by these actors. In the longer term, the objective of the research is to provide material to elaborate on a possible ‘Model Code of Conduct’ for ANSAs.

Methodology

The project will be conducted mainly through desk research. An advisory board composed of renowned experts and practitioners will supervise the process. In addition, interviews with selected ANSAs will be conducted in the field.

Partnership

This project is conducted in partnership with the Swiss NGO Geneva Call.

RESEARCHER

Picture of Annyssa Bellal

Annyssa Bellal

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.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

 Libya, Misrata, Tripoli Street. After a battle between members of the armed opposition and government forces. News

THE WAR REPORT: ARMED CONFLICTS IN 2016

April 2017

In 2016, 49 situations of armed violence amounted to armed conflicts according to international humanitarian law and international criminal law. The vast majority are non-international armed conflicts, as in preceding years, highlighting the changing nature of warfare. The analysis highlights two trends: the heavy toll of current armed conflicts on civilians often trapped in sieges and battlefields in cities and increased international interventions in conflicts.

Read more

Portrait of Anh Thu Duong News

Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict: What our Alumni Say

July 2017

Anh Thu Duong joined the Executive Master in 2011 while working on human rights and humanitarian issues at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. She tells us about the programme and what it brought to her career.

Read more

Rafah, 2009. The ICRC provides the farmers located in the buffer zones with wheat seeds Training

12th Advanced Seminar in International Humanitarian Law for University Lecturers and Researchers

25- September 2017

Organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Geneva Academy, the 12th edition of this advanced seminar aims to enhance the capacity of lecturers and researchers to teach and research international humanitarian law (IHL) contemporary issues, addressing both substantive and pedagogical aspects.

Read more

Libya, Misrata, Tripoli Street. Combattants carefully move into a building. Project

Armed Non-State Actors and the Protection of Civilians

Completed in March 2010

This research project looked at the reactions to norms of more than 30 armed groups worldwide.

Read more

Libya, Misrata, Tripoli Street. After a battle between members of the armed opposition and government forces. Project

The War Report

Started in December 2013

As an annual publication, The War Report provides an overview of contemporary trends in current armed conflicts, including key international humanitarian law and policy issues that have arisen and require attention.

Read more