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

Completed in September 2022

 From Syria to Mali, Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the majority of today’s armed conflicts are non-international in character and involve one or several armed non-State actors (ANSAs) fighting government forces or other ANSAs. Although international humanitarian law (IHL) provides a comprehensive framework to regulate these conflicts, violations are widespread and committed by States and ANSAs alike. Yet, while a number of studies have analysed States' practices, little is known about ANSAs' perspectives and attitudes towards IHL. Moreover, this state-centric approach to the international legal system may explain to some extent the lack of ownership of, and compliance with, international law by ANSAs.

This study has sought to address these gaps and provide a better sense of how ANSAs perceive IHL, which norms are more accepted or disputed, more respected or disregarded, and why. It has focused on the following questions: are ANSAs familiar with their obligations under IHL and how do they understand them? Do ANSAs agree with the norms? What factors influence their policy and practice? Are there new issues that ANSAs would be willing to regulate in the future?

From 2020 to 2022, the project has examined a range of norms and conducted interviews in several contexts of armed conflicts (Afghanistan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Syria).

Through a detailed comparative analysis of ANSAs views and practice on IHL, the project has aimed at:

  • Increasing knowledge of these key actors in today’s armed conflict and the applicable legal framework
  • Providing tools to humanitarian actors to better engage with ANSAs on IHL compliance
  • Informing future international law-making processes for rules applicable to ANSAs.

PARTNERSHIP

During the course of its life, the project, led by Dr Annyssa Bellal, has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

It was implemented in collaboration with several partners and stakeholders, in particular the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in partnership with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the American University in Cairo, Geneva Call, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Diakonia.

NEWS

Portrait of Dr Annyssa Bellal News

Dr Annyssa Bellal Will Discuss IHL Monitoring and Compliance at the UNGA Ministerial Week

20 September 2021

Our Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law Dr Annyssa Bellal will discuss IHL monitoring and compliance at a High-Level Side Event during the UN General Assembly Ministerial Week.

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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.

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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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OUTPUT

A Unique Comparative Analysis of ANSAs' Practice and Interpretation of Selected IHL Norms

 The project has produced a series of outputs. They include:

These outputs have been disseminated in several ways to maximize the impact of the project:

  • Briefing events with relevant stakeholders and humanitarian coordination bodies in Geneva and New York as well as in selected field locations
  • Peer-reviewed articles in practitioners’ and academic journals
  • An international conference in Geneva with the project team and partners as well as relevant stakeholders to launch the final results of the project.

These outputs are distinctively relevant for humanitarian agencies and other actors operating in conflict settings, academics, and policy-makers.

A Dedicated Website

The project's dedicated website From Words to Deeds constitutes a one-stop place to find all these outputs and other relevant project documents, including a database with relevant ANSAs' documents.

Publications

Cover page of the study

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

September 2022

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

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Cover of the publication

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

September 2022

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

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Cover of the publication

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

September 2022

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

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Cover of the publication

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

September 2022

Hiba Mikhail, Hassan Baalbaky, Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

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Cover of the publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms: The Philippines - Moro Islamic Liberation Front/Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces

August 2022

Chris Rush, Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

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Cover of the publication

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

June 2022

Ashley Jackson, Rahmatullah Amiri, Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

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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

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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Past Events

Book Launch: Rebel Courts

1 December 2021, 17:30-19:00

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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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