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Home Archive for category "Non-State Actors"

Compliance with IHL by Non-State Armed Groups: Some Practical Reflections at the 70th Anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

Published on August 21, 2019        Author: 

That non-State armed groups (NSAGs) engage in hostilities on a frequent basis is not news. Indeed, NSAGs are active in the majority of contemporary armed conflicts (at 19). What seems to have changed in the last few years is the increasing attention that the international community is paying to their behavior, largely due to the impact that they have on civilians. While it is undisputed that international humanitarian law (IHL) binds NSAGs (para 505), finding effective strategies to enhance their level of compliance remains challenging, especially considering that the baseline expectation is generally low (at 69).

Interestingly, while some NSAGs have been responsible for IHL violations, others have also shown a degree of compliance for certain rules during non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, some reflections related to how parties to armed conflicts – in this case, NSAGs – actually behave are in order.

Describing NSAGs’ Variations

Generally, compliance has been defined as “behavioral conformity with existing norms and regulations” (at 65). For NSAGs, this implies the observed match between their behavior and their international obligations.

As parties to armed conflicts, NSAGs should not be seen as entities that either violate or respect international law without exception. Instead, they may follow certain rules while disregarding others. For instance, a NSAG may respect the prohibition of using and recruiting children in hostilities, but may summarily execute detainees or take hostages. Similarly, a group may deliberately attack health care facilities and transports in breach of IHL, while prohibiting the forcible displacement of civilians. At the same time, these non-State entities often modify their behaviors throughout the hostilities, reflecting and increase or decrease in their level of compliance with humanitarian norms. Wood has identified that civilian victimization is “anticipated during moments in which the viability of the groups is threatened or when it faces significant military setbacks” (at 15). Variation is particularly evident during peace processes (here, for an example). When a NSAG looks for political recognition, it might adopt a different attitude than a group whose main purpose is to show its strength or to terrorize the civilian population living in the territory it controls.

Accordingly, compliance with IHL should be conceived as a spectrum, rather than an on/off switch. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Ituri Conundrum: Qualifying Conflicts between an Occupying Power and an Autonomous Non-State Actor

Published on July 15, 2019        Author: 

Last week, Trial Chamber VI of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the long-awaited judgment in the Ntaganda case. The judges found the defendant guilty on all 18 counts, including the ICC’s first ever conviction for sexual slavery. Although the Chamber is yet to resolve matters related to sentencing and reparations, the decision marks an important milestone in the proceedings, which began with an arrest warrant issued back in August 2006 (Mr Ntaganda surrendered himself to the ICC in March 2013).

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the case as well as with some of the controversies surrounding its progress. In brief, Bosco Ntaganda was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). The UPC/FPLC was one of the armed groups involved in the so-called Ituri conflict, which took place between 1999 and 2003 in the Ituri region in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Before the ICC, Mr Ntaganda was charged with 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity, all allegedly committed in Ituri between 2002 and 2003.

The judgment, which fills over 500 pages, no doubt deserves careful scrutiny before any general pronouncements can be made as to its overall quality and rigour. Instead of analysing the judgment as a whole, this post focuses on a narrow question related to the Chamber’s legal qualification of the conflict in Ituri at the material time (discussed in paras 699–730 of the judgment). In particular, I am going to look at how international humanitarian law (IHL) qualifies conflicts between an occupying power and an autonomous non-State actor. The analysis builds on my research into complex conflict situations, which was published as part of my recent book on Internationalized Armed Conflicts in International Law (OUP 2018, especially chapter 3).

The situation in Ituri between 2002 and 2003 was notoriously convoluted, Read the rest of this entry…

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The Limits of the Law: Putting Reparations into Practice

Published on July 2, 2019        Author: , , and

Reparations have recently been the hot topic from its invocation at the US Congress, the Khashoggi killing to WWII claims by Poland and Greece against Germany. Reparations have a particular legal meaning that intends to acknowledge wrongdoing and remedy as far as possible victims’ harm. Private law notions of restitution heavily imbue the concept. Indeed, the seminal case of Chorzów Factory by the Permanent Court of Justice laid the foundations for reparation in international law which ‘must, as far, as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed.’

In the past three decades we have seen an increase in reparation programmes from the German Compensation Scheme for Forced Labour, the UN Claims Commission, domestic reparation programmes such as Peru to jurisprudential strides of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the initial steps by the International Criminal Court. 2020 itself will mark fifteen years since the UN adoption of the Basic Principles for the Right to Remedy and Reparations for Gross Violations of Human Rights and Serious Breaches of International Humanitarian Law that sets the broad international standards for victims and states.

Despite these developments most victims of such violations do not receive reparations. Read the rest of this entry…

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Justifying Self-defense against Assisting States: Conceptualizing Legal Consequences of Inter-State Assistance

Published on May 23, 2019        Author:  and

Cause for thought: Israel’s airstrikes directed against Iran and Syria

Israel has acknowledged to have repeatedly struck Iranian military targets in Syria. While confrontations occur frequently, the incident of January 21, 2019 has received  particular attention. Israeli guided missiles, apparently fired over Lebanese territory (UN Doc. S/PV.8449, p. 31f), hit Iranian military targets in Syria, also leading to personal and material damage of Syria. Israel invoked its right to self-defense, apparently reacting to Iran firing a surface-to-surface missile towards the Golan Heights on Sunday, January 20 from Syrian territory. Syria’s precise role in the Iranian action beyond this territorial link remains murky.

The problem: self-defense affecting assisting states

The Israeli claim to self-defense faces various legal questions (e.g. whether the attack meets the necessary threshold or whether annexed territories can be defended). This contribution does not aim to assess the Israeli claim, but shall use this example to shed light on one problem only: May the victim of an armed attack defend itself not only against the attacker state, but also against an “assisting” state?

Even if the use of force by the defending state (here Israel) against the attacking state (here Iran) is assumed to be justified by self-defense, it also forcefully infringes upon the territorial integrity of the assisting State (here Syria), as protected under Article 2(4) UNC, and warrants justification, too. The claim that strikes directed against an actor within the territory of another state are not a prohibited use of force against the territorial state has been repeatedly rebutted.

In fact, in the Security Council debate on the January incident, Syria labelled the Israeli strikes as “acts of aggression targeting the Syrian Arab Republic”, a “gross violation of international law” (S/PV.8449, p. 31f). Iran like Russia condemned the Israeli action, emphasizing the infringement of Syria’s sovereignty. Interestingly, Israel (unlike the USA or Germany) showed awareness of the problem by holding “the Syrian regime responsible for the missile that was launched against Israel from Syrian territory” (S/PV.8449, p. 8). The IDF added that “Syria paid the price for allowing Iran to conduct attacks from its soil.”

While the permissibility of self-defense against states supporting non-state actor violence is being extensively discussed, self-defense against states assisting another state has received little attention Read the rest of this entry…

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Closing a Protection Gap in IHL: Disciplinary Detentions by Non-State Armed Groups in NIACs

Published on July 3, 2018        Author: 

Detentions by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) have been extensively analysed in the last few years. Most discussions have focused on whether the legal basis for the parties to NIACs to deprive their enemies or civilians of their liberty is implicit in international humanitarian law (IHL), or if it could alternatively be found elsewhere (para. 727).

Detentions by NSAGs of their own members have also been addressed, but only with respect to the command responsibility and prevention of IHL breaches. Although the analysis on the legal basis for detentions by NSAGs has been exhaustive, the possible detention of NSAGs’ own members as a result of a disciplinary measure without an IHL or criminal component has not yet been thoroughly studied (Clapham, 19-20). As it will be seen below, by not addressing these a person who intends to challenge his or her grounds of detention before the authorities of a NSAG could face a legal “black hole”.

The ICRC and The Two Types of Detentions in NIACs

The ICRC has explained that two types of detentions are included within the scope of Common Article 3 (CA3): those carried out in the context of criminal processes, for which CA3 imposes to the parties the obligation to a fair trial, and those detentions outside criminal processes, also known as “internment” (paras. 717-718).

In the first case, individuals would be detained for the commission of a criminal act, including violations to international law. Interestingly, the ICRC has affirmed that CA3’s reference to the “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions” alludes to criminal law procedures. Sentence is defined in this context as the judgment:

“that a court formally pronounces after finding a criminal defendant guilty; the punishment imposed on a criminal wrongdoer. This means that the guarantee of a fair trial in common Article 3 applies to the prosecution and punishment of persons charged with a penal offence” (para. 676, emphasis added).

Although not being the unanimous view (for instance, here, para 1451, and Cassese et al., p. 71), the ICRC has explicitly recognized that this type of detention applies to the parties’ own forces, which includes NSAGs:

Examples would include members of armed forces who are tried for alleged crimes – such as war crimes or ordinary crimes in the context of the armed conflict – by their own Party […] The fact that the trial is undertaken […] by their own Party should not be ground to deny such persons the protection of common Article 3 (para. 547).

Read the rest of this entry…

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Part 2: A few steps forward, a few steps sideways and a few steps backwards: The CAT’s revised and updated GC on Non-Refoulement

Published on March 21, 2018        Author:  and

CAT’s Defiance in Response to State Pushback

In Part I of our analysis of the new CAT General Comment, we noted that state pushback on a range of issues, for example diplomatic assurances and post deportation redress, was successful as evidenced by the committee’s amendments to the now adopted GC.  In this post, we discuss the areas where the CAT stood its ground in the consultation process and resisted state pushback, on some occasions even pushing certain doctrines beyond the position stated in the draft GC, despite states’ concerns.

Reverse Burden of Proof

The draft GC proposed a reverse burden of proof in cases where an individual “cannot elaborate on his/her case”. This would be, for example, if she has no possibility to obtain documentation regarding her alleged torture or is deprived of her liberty (para 40). There was pushback against the reverse burden of proof from several countries with the US, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Australia all arguing that this was not reflective of the wording of the Convention or the Committee’s caselaw, which suggests that the burden is always on the complainant to present their case.  While a reverse burden of proof is occasionally mentioned in the committee’s caselaw, this only ever shifts after the complainant has provided enough evidence to substantiate their case (see e.g. SPA v Canada, at para 7.5).  Despite this pushback, and the lack of grounding in the Committee’s caselaw, a reverse burden of proof has been retained in the adopted GC demonstrating the Committee’s use of the GC to engage in dynamic interpretation of the Convention.

Internal Flight Alternative Read the rest of this entry…

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Active Hostilities and International Law Limits to Trump’s Executive Order on Guantanamo

Published on March 13, 2018        Author:  and

In his State of the Union speech on January 30, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his signing of a new executive order aimed at keeping open the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as approving its repopulation. This post considers how the law of war governing detention in armed conflicts constricts the ability of the U.S. to hold persons in military prisons at Guantanamo in the manner suggested by this new order.

Formally speaking, Trump’s executive order repeals a critical portion of President Obama’s 2009 order calling for the Guantanamo prison site to be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.” The 2018 order also provides that the U.S. may “transport additional detainees” to the facility “when lawful and necessary to protect the nation.”

On the one hand, this executive order simply makes explicit what has already been President Trump’s de facto Guantanamo policy since taking office. While the Obama Administration worked to reduce the Guantanamo population considerably, resettling 197 of the 242 detainees remaining at the facility, President Trump has resettled none — not even five detainees cleared for release by the Department of Defense prior to Trump’s taking office. On the other hand, the order reflects a radical shift in policy. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolutions as Evidence of Customary International Law

Published on March 1, 2018        Author: 

In 2012 the International Law Commission began to address one of the last major uncodified areas of public international law: how norms of customary law (CIL) are to be identified.  The exercise at the ILC has not been an easy one.  States commenting in 2016 on the Commission’s “draft conclusions” expressed concerns on a variety of issues.  One of the most contentious was the role of international organizations (IOs) in the creation of custom. 

The topic has been the subject of academic conferences at the University of Manchester, the University of Michigan and elsewhere, as well as a growing volume of law review commentary (see here, here, here, here and here).  And in early January, the United States submitted comments on the draft conclusions that were, to put it mildly, opposed to any role for IOs.  Closer to home, Kristen Boon, Isaac Jenkins and I have just published an article on the role of the Security Council in generating evidence of custom related to non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), an area of intense Council involvement. In this post I’ll describe the ILC’s view of IOs, the United States’ response, and then our affirmative arguments specific to the Security Council. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Turkish Operation in Afrin (Syria) and the Silence of the Lambs

Published on January 30, 2018        Author: 

Operation Olive Branch

On 20th January 2018, the Turkish military started to attack the Kurdish-populated region of Afrin in Syria (“Operation Olive Branch“). With its letter to the Security Council of 22nd January 2018, Turkey justified this action as self-defence in terms of Art. 51 UN Charter. The relevant passage of the letter is: “[T]he threat of terrorism from Syria targeting our borders has not ended. The recent increase in rocket attacks and harassment fire directed at Hatay and Kilis provinces of Turkey from the Afrin region of Syria, which is under the control of the PKK/KCK/PYD/YPG terrorist organization, has resulted in the deaths of many civilians and soldiers and has left many more wounded.” (UN Doc. S/2018/53; emphasis added). Two elements are troublesome in this official Turkish justification.

Non-state armed attacks?

First, it is controversial whether armed attacks of the YPG, a non-state actor, suffice to trigger self-defence in terms of Article 51 UN Charter and underlying customary law. The current law (both Charter-based and treaty-based) is in flux, and still seems to demand some attribution to the state from which the attacks originate. (See for a collection of diverse scholarly opinion, ranging from “restrictivists” to “expansionists”: Anne Peters, Christian Marxsen (eds), “Self-Defence Against Non-State Actors: Impulses from the Max Planck Trialogues on the Law of Peace and War”, Heidelberg Journal of International Law 77 (2017), 1-93; SSRN-version in Max Planck Research Papers 2017-17).

The ICJ case-law has not fully settled the question (see for state-centred statements: ICJ, Oil platforms 2003, paras. 51 and 61; ICJ Wall opinion 2004, para. 139). Read the rest of this entry…

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Access to Remedy Under the UNGPs: Vedanta and the Expansion of Parent Company Liability

Published on October 31, 2017        Author: 

On Friday, 13 October 2017 the UK Court of Appeal handed down its long anticipated decision in Lungowe and others v. Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 (“Vedanta”). The appeal was brought by UK-based Vedanta Resources Plc (“Vedanta Resources”) and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (“KCM”), against a decision dismissing certain jurisdictional challenges brought by each of Vedanta Resources and KCM.

The underlying claim was brought by a group of Zambian Villagers alleging that harmful effluent from the appellants’ Zambian copper mining operations had been discharged into the local environment, including waterways that were of critical importance to the livelihood of the claimants, and to their physical, economic and social wellbeing. Rejecting the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the claim could proceed against the appellants in the UK.

The Vedanta litigation is a critical avenue for the claimants to pursue effective remedy as envisioned by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”) and represents a significant development in the emerging doctrine of parent liability. Read the rest of this entry…

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