Improving Respect for International Humanitarian Law by Non-State Armed Groups
Humanitarian Engagement with Non-State Armed Groups, The Royal Institute of International Affairs - Chatham House, UK, pp. 40-52, 2016
13 Pages Posted: 13 May 2016
Date Written: May 11, 2016
Non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in non-international armed conflicts can potentially protect or endanger civilians. Their number and diversity have proliferated in recent decades, presenting new challenges for humanitarian protection and engagement by the international community. While NSAGs must respect basic international humanitarian law (IHL) norms, the mechanisms for holding them accountable for violations of IHL are less developed than those for states. Various legal and practical tools can enable NSAGs to respect IHL, including special agreements, unilateral commitments, internal regulations, dissemination and training, and disciplinary systems. IHL-compliant ‘codes of conduct’ are a particularly important means of promoting respect for IHL in NSAGs, especially if supported by leaders and backed by dissemination, training and sanctions. Overall the international community’s engagement with NSAGs has been limited, and often focused more on dialogue about humanitarian access and relief than legal protection. In addition to the practical difficulties of engaging NSAGs, engagement can be impeded by counter-terrorism policies, co-option of humanitarianism by military goals, and competing priorities in UN missions. Actors that provide relief and assistance can exercise that leverage to engage NSAGs direct on wider issues of humanitarian protection. Actors focused more on monitoring of violations can seek to influence NSAGs though moral persuasion, public shaming and ‘influencing influencers’. The international community could engage NSAGs more on IHL compliance. Engaging NSAGs does not alter their legal status. While it may enhance an NSAG’s perceived political legitimacy, that risk is often outweighed by the high humanitarian price of failing to engage. Refusing to engage with NSAGs does not necessarily improve their behaviour. While a few groups may be beyond the pale, many groups are capable of being constructively engaged in some way. NSAGs need to be continually monitored to identify opportune timing for fruitful engagement.
Keywords: Non-state armed groups, terrorism, international humanitarian law, humanitarian engagement
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation