From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

Started in January 2017

CONTEXT

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.

THE RESEARCH

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.

OBJECTIVE

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.

METHODOLOGY

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.

PARTNERSHIP

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

RESEARCHERS

Picture of Annyssa Bellal

Annyssa Bellal

Senior 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.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Le cas du Mouvement National de Libération del’Azawad (MNLA), Mali

March 2021

Annyssa Bellal, Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; Geneva Call

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Cover of the publication

Case Study: The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad, MNLA), Mali

March 2021

Annyssa Bellal, Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; Geneva Call

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Cover of the publication

Case Study: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, FARC-EP)

March 2021

Annyssa Bellal, Ezequiel Heffes and Pascal Bongard

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; Geneva Call

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Cover of the publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

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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Cover of the Policy Briefing No1: Reactions to Norms Armed Groups and the Protection of Civilians

Reactions to Norms Armed Groups and the Protection of Civilians

January 2014

Alice Priddy

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the Rules of Engagement: Protecting Civilians through Dialogue with Armed Non-State Actors

Rules of Engagement: Protecting Civilians through Dialogue with Armed Non-State Actors

October 2011

Annyssa Bellal, Stuart Casey-Maslen

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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NEWS AND UPCOMING EVENTS

FARC fighters in Colombia News

‘From Words to Deeds’: Groundbreaking Studies on FARC-EP and MNLA and Dedicated New Website

9 March 2021

The first of a longer series aimed at producing a global comparative analysis, they provide a unique insight on how two armed non-State actors perceive international humanitarian law and some selected rules contained therein.

Read more >

Fighters in Libya News

10 Years of Expertise on Armed Non-State Actors

25 February 2021

We have been conducting research for more than 10 years on armed non-State actors, and continue to do so via two leading projects.

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Portrait of Annyssa Bellal News

Meet our Researchers: Annyssa Bellal

20 February 2020

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.

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Past Events

Taking Armed Non-State Actors Into Account: An Assessment of their Humanitarian Commitments

4 November 2020, 10:00-10:50

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Non-State Armed Groups and IHL

12 December 2019, 13:00-14:00

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

FARC fighters in Colombia News

‘From Words to Deeds’: Groundbreaking Studies on FARC-EP and MNLA and Dedicated New Website

9 March 2021

The first of a longer series aimed at producing a global comparative analysis, they provide a unique insight on how two armed non-State actors perceive international humanitarian law and some selected rules contained therein.

Read more

LLm Pleadings on Gaza at the Geneva Academy News

LLM Students Successfully Plead Face-to-Face and Online on the Gaza 2014 Conflict

27 April 2021

In the framework of our LLM in IHL and Human Rights, students pleaded during the entire day of 24 April 2021 for Israel and for Palestine arguing that the side they represent has respected IHL while the adverse side has violated IHL.

Read more

An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

9 March - 13 April 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, 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.

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Syria, destroyed building and ambulance Short Course

Basic Principles of International Humanitarian Law

29 September - 3 November 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, examines the sources of international humanitarian law (IHL). It provides an introduction to the key principles and terminology of IHL.

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On the screen, on the screen is Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), briefing the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions. Project

International Humanitarian Law and the United Nations Security Council

Started in January 2020

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Central African Republic, Ouham province, village of Ouogo. International Humanitarian Law dissemination session to members of the Peoples' Army for the Restoration of Democracy. Project

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

Started in January 2017

This project aims at compiling and analysing the practice and interpretation of selected international humanitarian law and human rights norms by armed non-state actors (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 a possible ‘Model Code of Conduct’.

Read more

Cover page of the book Publication

War

published on July 2021

Andrew Clapham

Read more

cover of the publication Publication

Military Briefing: Persons with Disabilities and Armed Conflict

published on March 2021

Alice Priddy

Read more