The Paris shootings and France’s reaction have once again triggered debate on states’ right to self-defense against attacks by non-state actors (see here, here, or here). Discussions normally focus on jus ad bellum issues, such as the ‘unwilling or unable’ test or when a threat is imminent. A question that receives strikingly little attention is whether the invocation of the right to self-defense against a non-state armed group under jus ad bellum would provide a sufficient legal basis for attacking this group by military means. As Marko Milanovic pointed out on this blog, the lawfulness of strikes against a non-state entity does not only depend on jus ad bellum but also on a second layer of legal examination: does the attack form part of an armed conflict and complies with international humanitarian law, or is the attack in questioned governed by international human rights law and possibly infringes on the targeted person’s right to life? This post examines how the use of military force in self-defense against non-state armed groups may be justified under jus in bello. Read the rest of this entry…
Among the continuing horrors reported from Syria, it is the use of certain weapons that time and again makes the headlines. While the use of chemical weapons led to an important response from the international community, in recent months attacks with so called ‘barrel bombs’ triggered an international echo. In its latest resolution on Syria the UN Security Council demanded all parties to cease ‘the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs’. UN Secretary General Ban called these weapons ‘horrendous’, France found that these weapons ‘sought to indiscriminately kill people’, and for the UK the use of these weapons against civilian areas constitutes ‘yet another war crime’ by the Assad regime. Different human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch or the Syrian Network for Human Rights, report that the use of barrel bombs has caused high numbers of dead, the vast majority of which are civilians. There is no question that war crimes are committed in Syria, especially by the Assad regime. It is, however, less clear to what extent international law prohibits the use of barrel bombs in non-international armed conflicts, and whether their use constitutes a war crime.
Progressive Development of International Human Rights Law: The Reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
Tilman Rodenhäuser is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
The crisis in Syria has entered its third year and violence has risen to unprecedented levels. This is not only the case for acts committed by regime forces but also for violence by members of different armed groups fighting the Assad regime. At a time when the situation in Syria was still marked by the crackdown of regime forces on protesters, the Human Rights Council decided in August 2011 to establish a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission is mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011, to establish facts, and to identify perpetrators in order to ensure accountability in the future. Documenting human rights violations at the different stages of the crisis, the Commission of Inquiry made some remarkable findings, particularly on the law applicable to acts of violence committed by opposition forces. First, in a situation where international humanitarian law did not apply because the Commission was unable to establish the existence of an armed conflict, it found that armed groups were bound by human rights obligations constituting peremptory international law. Second, in its recent report of February 2013, the Commission found armed groups in violation of Article 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.