Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions binds the parties to non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) without making any distinction between the obligations of States and those of armed opposition groups (AOGs). Additionally, it encourages the parties to expand their obligations by concluding special agreements in order to bring other provisions of the GCs into force. These agreements’ importance has been recognized here by the ICRC, when identifying them as valuable methods to improve respect of IHL. In a recent post in Opinio Juris, Rogier Bartels has mentioned some contemporary peace agreements which could potentially also be framed within that category. However, CA3 doesn’t really determine their legal nature. Are they regulated by international or domestic law? What kind of obligations do they create?
Unraveling these questions isn’t merely an intellectual exercise. Special agreements serve to strengthen public confidence in IHL as a useful, practical and relevant body of law. Indeed, they help achieve willingness and material conditions to augment AOGs’ compliance. Whatever approach one selects, it will inevitably have consequences on the way we think about IHL’s effectiveness at large.
This post will analyse three alternatives regarding the legal nature of special agreements: i) special agreements under domestic law; ii) special agreements under a sui generis regime; iii) special agreements under international law. We will argue that this last perspective provides a more accurate description of the current dynamics of international law and is more useful to engage with AOGs on IHL compliance issues.