Wars of National Liberation and the Disruption of Hegemony in 1974
26 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2019
Date Written: September 13, 2018
The negotiations leading to what came to be Article 1(4) of the First Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions were so acrimonious that they threatened to wreck the 1974-1977 conference in Geneva, which eventually resulted in the two protocols. It is a fundamental precept of international humanitarian law that there is equality between belligerents, in the sense that the parties to an armed conflict have the same rights and duties in war. However, that privilege only applies to parties that are under a proper authority — traditionally only States – under the then prevailing hegemonic conception of such authority. When a number of Third World States and others introduced the idea of extending this combatant privilege also to national liberation movements in ‘armed conflicts which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination,’ many Western States objected vehemently, and most others were sceptical. The idea was seen to violate the premise that international humanitarian law is neutral about the causes of conflict. Nevertheless, only a few months after the introduction of the amendments, most Western State had come to grudgingly accept it. Partly that was because of geopolitical and pragmatic reasons. However, partly, it is suggested, it was also because the amendment invoked the established concept of self-determination in order to ‘harmonize humanitarian law with contemporary general international law’. This shows that the universalizing language of IHL was malleable enough to accommodate contesting interests.
Keywords: Wars of National Liberation, National Liberation Movements, Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Hegemony, Universalism.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation