Our Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Dr Annyssa Bellal travelled this summer to North-East Syria with colleagues from Geneva Call – Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard – as part of the research project From Words to Deeds she leads that examines the practice and interpretation of armed non-State actors (ANSA) on core IHL norms.
This trip to the areas administered by the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES) aimed at collecting first-hand information about how the AANES – which controls a large territory and population – and its armed branches, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) perceive and implement their obligations under international law.
The research team spent ten days in North-East Syria, notably in Quamisli, Hasakeh and Raqqa – the former ‘capital’ of the Islamic State group (ISIS).
This field research – which forms part of a larger series that involve trips to different conflict zones – allowed the research team to conduct interviews with the SDF and the authorities of the AANES and to collect policy documents on humanitarian and human rights norms, such as military instructions, internal regulations and laws, public statements and commitments.
‘We could have frank and open discussions with the SDF and other relevant authorities about the difficulties they encounter in implementing their obligations under international law and how they perceive these obligations.
We notably met with SDF General Command, commanders of the People’s Defense Unit (YPG) and Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ), the Deir Al-Zor Military Council, as well as the Internal Security Forces General Command. We also spoke with members of the AANES in charge of health, gender, justice, child protection, education and cultural and humanitarian affairs’ explains Dr Bellal.
‘It was not an easy trip for security reasons notably, but worth it given the wealth of important information, we could collect for our research. It was also the occasion to meet fellow scholars working at the University of Rojava and to give a lecture there on ‘armed movements’ position on humanitarian norms’ she adds.
The research team is currently analyzing and working on all the documents collected and interviews conducted during the trip. The key findings will be published later this year in a form of a case study, following the two that were published in early 2021 on the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) and the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA).
‘While we are currently analyzing the information collected during this trip, the mission was really successful in demonstrating that ANSAs, such as the SDF, have clear positions on key issues of international law. For this particular coalition of armed groups, no major disagreement with the norms seems to exist and the challenges lie more in the capacity or willingness to implement them’ explains Dr Bellal.
The mission highlighted the paradoxical position of the SDF and the AANES that administer a large population as an ANSA.
‘The detention of thousands of former ISIS fighters and their families represents a formidable challenge for this actor: while the SDF/AANES are under the obligation to treat these fighters in accordance with international law, they lack the capacity to do so’ explains Dr Bellal.
‘Other challenges relate to the fact that they cannot have a direct access to vaccines in the context of the COVID pandemic or that the diplomas obtained by children in school are not recognized as valid under domestic law – highlighting the difficulty of ensuring respect of the right to health or right to education of the persons living under the control of an ANSA’ she adds.
Annabel Bassil currently works as a Junior Legal Advisor at Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre. In this interview, she tells about the programme and what it brought to her career.
Our Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on IHL Dr Annyssa Bellal travelled this summer to North-East Syria with colleagues from Geneva Call – Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard – as part of the research project she leads that examines the practice and interpretation of ANSAs on core IHL norms.
In this online event co-organized with the ATLAS Network, prominent women in international law will share their experience and advice through an interactive discussion.
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.
This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, provides an overview of the evolution of the rules governing the use of force in international law, focusing on military intervention on humanitarian grounds and the creation of the United Nations collective security system. It then addresses the concept of the responsibility to protect.
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 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.