3 October 2019
The Senegalese government is engaged in a decades-old non-international armed conflict (NIAC) in Casamance, the southwestern limb of Senegal, with the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance (MFDC), a decentralized non-state armed group aspiring to complete independence of the region.
Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of this NIAC, including information about parties to the conflict, its classification as a NIAC and applicable international law.
‘We use two criteria to assess whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a NIAC under international humanitarian law: the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions, and at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group that exhibits a certain level of organization’ explains Tadesse Kebebew, Researcher at the Geneva Academy.
‘In this case, we considered that both criteria are met for the armed violence between the Senegalese armed forces and the MFDC, notably its core military force the Front Sud, a well-organized group which has operated south of the Casamance River with its rear bases mainly along both sides of the Casamance’s porous forested border with Guinea-Bissau’ he adds.
Several attempts to end the conflict – including the ceasefire agreements on 31 May 1991, 8 July 1993, 27 December 1999, 30 December 2004 and 2014 - were not effective nor durable. Apart from occasional lulls in the fighting due to these ceasefire agreements, the conflict has been active since the 1990s and at times extremely brutal, causing the death of thousands of people, humanitarian crises and significant destructions.
‘The existence of a ceasefire agreement does not in itself put an end to a NIAC: violence frequently continues after the conclusion of such agreements and a NIAC. Similarly, a decrease in the intensity of violence does not imply that international humanitarian law (IHL) ceases to be applicable. Indeed, a NIAC continues until hostilities have ended with a certain degree of permanence and stability, or a peaceful settlement has been achieved. Accordingly, IHL continues to be applicable regardless of the oscillating intensity of violence’ explains Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.
While the conflict has been concentrated in the Casamance region, it has spillover effects in the neighbouring countries of the Gambia and Guinea Bissau.
Throughout the conflict, the Senegalese government has also accused Gambia and Guinea-Bissau of supporting the rebels and allowing them access to their territory. Though Guinea-Bissau has continuously denied the allegations, there are numerous reports indicating the opposite.
The Senegalese government also accused former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh of allowing the MFDC to maintain bases in the Gambia and support cross-border timber trade, in particular by illegally taxing companies operating in the timber trade.
‘However, even if substantiated, the logistical support provided by Gambia and Guinea-Bissau to MFDC in itself is not sufficient to transform the conflict into an International Armed Conflict by virtue of overall control’ explains Tadesse Kebebew.
The Research Brief From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms summarizes the focus, objectives, methodology and research questions of this project.
Olivier Chamard/Geneva Academy
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.
In this event, Pierre Krahenbühl, former Commissioner-General for the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near-East (UNRWA), will discuss operational challenges characterizing situations of armed conflict.
This event marks the launch in Geneva of the book International Humanitarian Law and Non-State Actors: Debates, Law and Practice.
This short course discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.
This short course 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.
The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.
This project, initiated in 2014 by the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law, Professor Noam Lubell, intends to identify, via expert meetings and research, a set of best practices that states should apply when they investigate or examine alleged violations or misconduct in situations of armed conflict.