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ICRC Commentary of Common Article 3: Some questions relating to organized armed groups and the applicability of IHL’

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the joint blog symposium hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross and arising out of the 5th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held at the European University Institute in Florence this summer.

I was asked during our workshop to discuss some questions related to non-state armed groups raised by the chapeau of Common Article 3 (In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions) and the 2016 ICRC Updated Commentary to Geneva Convention I.

It is well known that for there to be a non-international armed conflict, the violence must involve an organized armed group.  So one of the first questions to arise in this context is what degree of organization of the armed group is required in order to trigger the application of international humanitarian law (IHL)?  

The 2016 ICRC Commentary acknowledges that Article 3 does not provide a detailed definition of its scope of application, nor does it contain a list of criteria for identifying the situations in which it is meant to apply. It is however uncontroversial that armed groups must reach a certain level of organization so as to be bound by IHL. As the well known definition of armed conflicts in the ICTY 1995 decision in the Tadić case reminds: ‘[A]n armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State’ (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić (aka ‘Dule’), Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction (Appeals Chamber), ICTY (Case No. IT-94-1), 2 October 1995, §70).

How to determine the appropriate level of organization seems to be the difficult question. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Author’s Response: Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups

Published on November 7, 2016        Author: 

First of all, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Jonathan Horowitz, Cordula Droege, and Marco Sassoli for taking the time to read my book and to engage with its arguments. All three discussants raised a number of interesting questions and although I cannot address them all here due to space limitations, they raised a number of issues that I will continue to think through and develop further. For the purposes of this post I have chosen to focus on four overarching topics: the challenge to State sovereignty posed by the regulation of armed group activity; the question of how human rights law obligations can be applied to non-State armed groups; the consideration of armed groups not party to a non-international armed conflict; and the question of compliance.

Before proceeding, however, I would like to flag a few issues. Although I argue that human rights law obligations can, and should, be applied to armed groups in certain situations, the State remains the original duty bearer. The fact that the State’s obligations are the starting point act as a safeguard to ensure that the State cannot rely upon the application of human rights obligations to armed groups to circumvent its own responsibilities (see the ‘respect, protect, fulfil’ framework discussed in the introductory post). I should also note that I regard the application of human rights obligations to armed groups as necessary but not ideal. In normal situations the State remains the appropriate guarantor of human rights. It is only in exceptional circumstances that efforts should be made to ensure that human rights are protected to the extent possible by extending obligations to armed groups. Finally, Sassoli makes an interesting point regarding the gradated context-dependent application of customary international human rights law. This appears sensible, and is in keeping with the approach to treaty law presented in the book; it requires further consideration. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Two Fascinating Questions: Are all subjects of a legal order bound by the same customary law and can armed groups exist in the absence of armed conflict? Book Discussion

Published on November 4, 2016        Author: 

Armed groups are not very popular entities in today’s world, especially among states which invariably label them as terrorist. That such groups are bound by international humanitarian law (IHL) of non-international armed conflicts is clearly prescribed by Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, but this remains difficult for States to digest. Having obligations under the IHL of NIACs does not solve all the problems associated with such groups, because its rules are rudimentary, do not deal with how a territory must be administered and do not even apply to those acts of administration (e.g. in the areas of justice or detention) lacking any nexus to the armed conflict. It is therefore the great merit of Daragh Murray that his book forcefully argues – following in the footsteps of others such as Andrew Clapham, while providing greater detail and some new ideas – that armed groups have human rights obligations and explores what this can mean in practice.

I agree with the aim of the book and with most of the arguments employed. Some will, even in good faith, object to its aim, others will qualify Murray’s arguments as very forceful de lege ferenda, but argue that they go beyond a possible interpretation of lex lata. I find the very varied, often alternative, arguments presented for why armed groups can be subject to international law very nuanced, complete and convincing (with one exception discussed hereafter). The proposed gradated – or sliding scale – approach to the application of Human Rights to armed groups (pp. 172-199), based inter alia upon the classical distinction between obligations to respect, fulfil and protect is equally convincing and Murray’s application of this approach to three selected human rights is both innovative and realistic.

However, the argument provided for why armed groups are bound by existing human rights treaties (although they never accepted them formally) is in my view comparatively short, very absolute and less well-reasoned (pp. 164-169). Read the rest of this entry…

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

Published on November 3, 2016        Author: 

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…

 

Challenging the Traditional View that International Law Does not Extend to Non-State Armed Groups. Book Discussion

Published on November 3, 2016        Author: 

While international human rights law (IHRL) and its numerous enforcement mechanisms have proliferated over the years, millions of people remain beyond its reach. Frequently this is because they live in areas controlled by non-state armed groups, often under difficult and oppressive conditions.  Dr. Daragh Murray’s new book “Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups” (Hart, 2016) addresses this issue by providing a serious and thought-provoking account of why IHRL binds non-state armed groups, both inside and outside situations of armed conflict.

In times of armed conflict, international humanitarian law (IHL) places important restrictions on organized non-state armed groups to address this problem, but its rules are sparse. Moreover, IHL lacks a strong, universal, and functional international monitoring system. There are also plenty of situations outside of armed conflict, where IHL doesn’t apply, and yet armed groups maintain decisive influence over the lives of people.

Murray’s book, which looks to IHRL for answers, refreshingly challenges the traditional view that IHRL doesn’t bind non-state actors.  Far from being an activist’s manifesto or merely providing a wish-list of what law should do to regulate non-state armed groups, Murray goes to great pains to interrogate what more international law, and IHRL in particular, is capable of doing. He does this in a comprehensive manner—drawing on a variety of fields of public international law and capitalizing on the relatively few instances where international law binds non-state actors—to develop a legal theory that he then applies to civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. Murray provides us with a detailed diagram of how IHRL binds non-state armed groups and gives thorough explanations to support what he describes.  Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups

Published on November 2, 2016        Author: 

First of all I would like to extend a huge thank you to EJIL:Talk! for hosting this book discussion and to the three discussants for taking the time to read the book and to provide their comments. It is a privilege, and I look forward to the debate.

Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups’ looks at the legal and practical mechanics of how international human rights law can be applied to armed groups. I focus on two key issues: (1) what is the legal basis for the application of international human rights law obligations to armed groups, and under what circumstances will the law apply, and (2) how will the application of human rights law to armed groups work in practice, noting that armed groups are definitely not States – and so cannot reasonably be subject to the same obligations – and also that significant variation exists amongst armed groups and so obligations may need to be applied to different armed groups in a different manner.

In this introductory post I would like to briefly set out why armed groups should be subject to human rights obligations, and to present an overview of my approach in relation to the two issues identified above.

Today, non-State armed groups exert significant influence over the lives of millions of people around the world. Indeed, at its height the Islamic State was reported as exercising governmental authority over up to 10 million people in Iraq and Syria, while the impact of other groups such as the CPN-M in Nepal, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the FARC in Colombia, the Naxalites in India, or the BRN-C in Southern Thailand is well documented. The activity of these groups is demonstrably of international concern. Yet their activities are not subject to effective regulation. Read the rest of this entry…