Engaging with Non-State Armed Groups: the Geneva Call "Deed of Commitment"
[Editor's Note: In its efforts to enrich professional dialogue on contemporary challenges of humanitarian law and policy, the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University invites experts in international humanitarian law, humanitarian action, and associated fields to contribute their insights to relevant discussions. We are pleased to welcome the contribution below from Jonathan Somer, one of the expert panelists at the 26 June 2012 Live Web Seminar on "Engaging Armed Groups".]
One question that is often asked to Geneva Call by local populations suffering the effects of armed conflict goes something like: "why do you only work with armed non-State actors towards improved respect for humanitarian norms when violations are being committed by both sides?”
The answer is certainly not that we think armed non-State actors (ANSAs) are worse than States when it comes to violations of humanitarian norms. As Olivier Bangerter, an expert with a great deal of expertise on the subject, writes in the previous volume of the IRRC, “Respect for IHL does not depend on the nature of a party but on the decisions that it takes”. He then goes on to show that in some conflicts, violations are primarily committed by States, in others by ANSAs - and in relatively equal amounts.
The reason that Geneva Call works exclusively with ANSAs is as a response to an ownership gap in the international legal order: while international law imposes humanitarian obligations on ANSAs, they cannot become party to the relevant treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. Geneva Call works to mitigate this gap by providing a global mechanism — the Deed of Commitment under Geneva Call — by which ANSAs can demonstrate their commitment to specific international humanitarian norms (currently the anti-personnel landmine ban, the protection of children from the effects of armed conflict, and the prohibition of sexual violence). In this way, ANSAs are able to take ownership of these obligations, and to work with Geneva Call towards implementing their commitment.
One way in which ANSAs take ownership under the Deed of Commitment is through periodic self-reporting, and in facilitating external monitoring of their obligations. In fact, monitoring and reporting obligations under the Deed of Commitment are more robust than under multilateral treaties applicable to States. So far, 42 ANSAs from around the globe have become signatory to the Deed of Commitment banning Anti-Personnel Mines. In almost all cases — exceptions generally being where the signatory no longer exist as an armed opposition — they have lived up to their substantive obligations, as well as their monitoring and reporting obligations.
Meanwhile, other actors and mechanisms continue to work with States towards their compliance with humanitarian obligations within the international legal framework, as well as through alternative mechanisms and reporting processes.
My co-author and colleague, Pascal Bongard, and I look more in depth at the successes, challenges, and lessons learned on the monitoring, reporting, and verification of humanitarian obligations of ANSAs, with particular focus on the Deed of Commitment, in our contribution to the IRRC volume on “Engaging Armed Groups”.