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Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups: Realistic or Overly Ambitious? Book Discussion

Published on November 3, 2016        Author: 
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Dr Murray’s book, Human Rights Obligations on Non-State Armed Groups talks about non-state armed groups as a reality that needs to be addressed: they exist, they exercise control, and therefore we must talk about their responsibilities. While this might seem self-evident, his sober analysis is particular commendable in the context of the current counter-terrorism atmosphere and discourse. It is a very well-researched, thorough and thoughtful book. It is particularly impressive in its wide research about the practice of many different groups.

The book raises many interesting questions on legal theory, but also on mechanisms to engage in dialogue with non-state armed groups. I would like to focus on two aspects: the legal “de facto control” argument and the dilemma which, to my mind, human rights obligations of non-state armed groups raise.

After having established that non-state armed groups have legal personality, the book argues that the “prescriptive jurisdiction theory” allows states – which are normatively higher positioned than their subjects, including non-state armed groups – to impose binding obligations on non-state armed groups as a matter of international law.

This is indeed what states have done in Common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions by imposing IHL obligations on each party to non-international armed conflicts, meaning also non-state armed groups. Through practice and opinio juris they have also, by now, by and large accepted that non-state armed groups have IHL obligations under customary international humanitarian law.

Unlike Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II, however, human rights treaties are not generally worded in a manner that would suggest that they are binding on non-state armed groups. Other traditional sources of international law to create international rights and obligations would be customary law or general principles. However, the book discards both – customary law for lack of evidence; and general principles for being too general and vague. While this is correct, in my opinion, the analysis could have benefitted from looking a bit more closely at state practice and positions. Read the rest of this entry…