Live Seminar 43: Understanding Armed Groups and the Applicable Law

April 5, 2012 - 9:30am - 11:00am
Online, United States


Co-hosted by HPCR and the International Review of the Red Cross.

In recent years, increased attention has been paid to protection of civilians in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) — that is, conflicts waged between a government's armed forces and an organized armed group, or between such groups. Whether the data supporting this trend reflects an actual increase in the number of NIACs, or whether such conflicts are now just being more recognized by the international community — which has long been reluctant to interfere in the domestic affairs of states — is an open question.

Aiming to better protect civilians in NIACs, attempts have been made to apply humanitarian rules developed for armed conflicts between states to conflicts with armed groups. These attempts have faced a number of difficulties due in part to the legal, political, and operational character of these armed actors. Indeed, for much of its history international law pertaining to armed conflict focused on regulating hostilities between states. In the wake of the atrocities of World War II, states increasingly scrutinized conflicts waged within a state by regulating NIACs as a matter of international law, especially in Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. While it provides basic protection to those not, or no longer, taking part in hostilities in NIACs, this treaty provision nonetheless leaves certain fundamental questions — including what specific rules govern conduct of hostilities in NIACs and on what (legal) basis are armed groups bound to comply with the law — unanswered. Later attempts to further regulate non-international armed conflicts, particularly Additional Protocol II of 1977, have not fully resolved these issues. Drawing on standards from international law applicable to conflicts between states, which are much more regulated by treaties than NIACs, judges of international tribunals and international law experts have attempted to fill-in some of the perceived "gaps" left by the relative under-regulation of NIACs. In addition, beyond the legal debate about the rules applicable to non-state actors, there has been a relative dearth of research and policy development concerning how to practically affect the behavior of non-state armed groups without bolstering or providing illicit support to them.

In order to enrich discussions among humanitarian professionals regarding principled engagement with armed groups, this Live Web Seminar, jointly convened by the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR ) and the International Review of the Red Cross (IRRC), will shed light on armed groups and the law applicable to them. Expert panelists and participants will examine such questions as:

-- What law applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts? How does this law bind armed groups?
-- How can international humanitarian organizations attempt to mediate a space for engagement with armed groups in line with humanitarian principles and in light of complex legal and political tensions?
-- What aspects of armed groups — including social, economic, and cultural factors — are important to consider when ensuring compliance with international rules?
-- What avenues are available for humanitarian professionals to build a consensus around humanitarian engagement with armed groups?

Moderated by:
Claude Bruderlein (Director, HPCR) and Vincent Bernard (Editor-in-Chief, International Review of the Red Cross)

Panelists include:
Marco Sassòli (University of Geneva)
Aristoteles Constantinides (University of Cyprus, Department of Law)
Christophe Gillioz (International Committee of the Red Cross)
Zama Coursen-Neff (Human Rights Watch)
Cedric Ryngaert (Universities of Utrecht and Leuven)


From Volume 93, No. 882 of the International Review of the Red Cross on the theme of "Understanding Armed Groups and the Applicable Law":

Olivier Bangerter, "Reasons why armed groups choose to respect international humanitarian law or not," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

Arnaud Blin, "Armed groups and intra-state conflicts: the dawn of a new era?," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

Zakaria Daboné, "International law: armed groups in a state-centric system," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

Jann Kleffner, "The applicability of international humanitarian law to organized armed groups," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

René Provost, "The move to substantive equality in international humanitarian law: a rejoinder to Marco Sassoli and Yuval Shany,"   International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

Marco Sassoli and Yuval Shany, "Debate: should the obligations of states and armed groups under international humanitarian law really be equal," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011).

"Interview with Ali Ahmad Jalali," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011). 
Abdulkader H. Sinno, "Armed groups' organizational structure and their strategic options," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 882 (2011). 

From Volume 93, No. 883 of the International Review of the Red Cross on the theme of "Engaging Armed Groups":

"Interview with David Kilcullen," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 883 (2011). 

John Borrie and Maya Brehm, "Enhancing civilian protection from use of explosive weapons in populated areas: building a policy and research agenda," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 883 (2011). 
Deborah Casalin, "Taking prisoners: review the international humanitarian law grounds for deprivation of liberty by armed opposition groups," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 883 (2011). 
Ron Dudai, "Closing the gap: symbolic reparations and armed groups," International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 883 (2011). 

Additional resources: 

Aristoteles Constantinides, "Human Rights Obligations and Accountability of Armed Opposition Groups: The Practice of the UN Security Council," Vol. 4, No. 1, Human Rights and International Legal Discourse (2010), pp. 89-110.
Cedric Ryngaert and Anneleen Van de Meulebroucke, "Enhancing and Enforcing Compliance with International Humanitarian Law by Non-State Armed Groups: an Inquiry into some Mechanisms," Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Winter 2011) pp. 443-472.
Marco Sassòli, "Taking Armed Groups Seriously: Ways to Improve their Compliance with International Humanitarian Law," International Humanitarian Legal Studies, Vol. 1 (2010), pp. 5–51.

In partnership with:

The Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA) formulates and coordinates Swiss foreign policy on the instructions of the Federal Council. A coherent foreign policy is a precondition for the effective protection of Swiss interests vis-à-vis foreign countries.

The International Review of the Red Cross is a quarterly published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Cambridge University Press. It is a forum for debate on international humanitarian law and humanitarian action and policy, during armed conflict and other situations of violence. 

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