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The 2015 edition of the Bruges Colloquium on IHL will deal with “Urban Warfare” and take place on 15-16 October 2015

October 4, 2015

The 16th edition of the Bruges Colloquium on International Humanitarian Law will take place on 15-16 October 2015 and will deal with “Urban Warfare”. The ICRC and the College of Europe have, as they do every year, put together a very interesting programme. An excellent reason to visit Bruges, where you combine attending a high-level discussion on IHL with enjoying some Belgian delights (such as chocolates, moules et frites and beer)!

The proceedings of previous years can be accessed (for free) online. Last year dealt with the detention in armed conflict. Other previous topics relevant for the readers of this blog include: Scope of application of IHL, Relevance of IHL to Non-State Actors, Improving compliance with IHL, and Armed Conflicts and Parties to Armed Conflicts under IHL: Confronting Legal Categories to Contemporary Realities.


The Colloquium’s sessions will address:

1) The identification of military targets in cities

2) Protecting civilians living in cities against the effect of hostilities

3) The prohibition of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks

4) Two panel discussions: one on the legality of siege warfare and one on how to reduce human cost of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.


Speakers include academics such as Marco Sassoli, Francoise Hampson, Sean Watts, Agnieszka Jachec-Neale and Nobuo Hayashi, as well as practitioners of the ICRC, NATO, NGOs and national armed forces (such as Lauren Gisel, Stephen Hill, Clive Baldwin, and Guy Keinan, respectively).


Practical information is available here. The (provisional) programme is as follows: Read more…

Education and Non State Actors: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda

September 30, 2015

Pages from EAA1949-20150922A thought-provoking report was published last week by Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) on ‘Education and Armed Non State Actors: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda’. The report, written by Jonathan Somer at Persona Grata Consulting (formerly from Geneva Call), addresses education and non State actors. It was written for a Workshop on Education and Armed Non-State Actors organized by PEIC and Geneva Call in June 2015.

Somewhat uniquely, the report deals not only with the manner in which armed groups may attack schools or use them for military purposes, it also deals with the provision of educational services by armed groups. This latter issue has up until now been given relatively little attention by researchers and poses particularly difficult questions for policy makers.

Structure of the report

The first section of the report surveys ‘what ANSAs do’ in terms of practice. Its focus is on three aspects (i) provision of education (ii) attacks on education and (iii) the military use of schools and universities.

The section on the provision of education is by far the longest, and contains the most interesting and groundbreaking research. Acknowledging that the data on the role of ANSAs in the provision of education is sketchy, the report highlights key instances in which ANSAs have provided primary, secondary or higher education around the world. It also highlights instances in which ANSA in control of territory have cooperated with the existing government to provide educational services in the territory under their control.

The section ends by providing some comments on the quality of education provided by ANSAs and the challenges they encounter in its provision. It also cites instances in which aid and donor agencies have been prepared to work with ANSAs in their efforts to provide education or protect child rights. Importantly, the report also considers the impact of ANSA education on a country’s transition out of armed conflict to a state of peace.

The report then continues by shortly considering the negative aspects of ‘what ANSAs do’. In particular, it focuses on attacks on education and military use of schools and universities.  It highlights that research shows that ANSAs are generally more prone to make attacks on educational establishments than states. Conversely, it shows that States have been more often implicated in the use of schools for military purposes than ANSAs.

The second section of the report surveys ‘what ANSAs say they will do’ in terms of doctrine. In doing so, it provides examples of pledges, laws, statements, commitments by armed groups on (i) the provision and facilitation of education by armed groups (ii) the protection of schools and (iii) the military use of schools and universities.

The third section of the report looks at the normative framework of IHL and IHRL considering ‘what ANSA are obliged to do’. This section points out that the legal framework protecting schools from attack is relatively straightforward and stems from international humanitarian law rules and principles. It shows that the legal framework prohibiting schools from military use is less straightforward, as there is no absolute international law prohibition against using schools and universities for military purposes.  The report points out that the legal framework pertaining to this issue would be more restrictive if it is accepted that ANSAs are bound by the IHRL obligations to protect and fulfil the right to education. Clarity on this issue would also assist in clarifying the scope of ANSAs duties to ensure education.

The final substantive section of the report looks at the international norms and policy provisions relative to the engagement of ANSA in general, and in the area of education in particular. It also look conducts a preliminary survey of international response in practice. In doing so, the author of the report utilises anonymous interviews with people working in humanitarian agencies to illustrate some of the difficulties agencies face on these issues.

Discussion framework

The report ends by identifying key areas for discussion that are distilled into three major questions followed by further sub-questions:

  1. To what extent should ANSAs be engaged with and supported in their efforts to ensure and regulate education?
  2. How can the response be improved?
  3. How should international actors approach education an ANSA issues in peace and transition processes?

The report is too dense and too richly written for me to summarise further in a blog post, but it is a rare piece of writing about the provision of public services by armed groups in territory under their control. This is a topic that is too rarely acknowledged in writing relating to armed groups but which certainly deserves more attention by  lawyers and policy makers.

In paying attention to these issues, the report is extremely thorough at looking at the issue from every angle and from the perspective of every actor. Ultimately, it exposes the tensions that humanitarian agencies face when trying to secure the needs of those on the ground without reinforcing the government capacities of the armed group or reinforcing the breakdown of the State.

One of the stated purposes of the report was to ‘initiate a dialogue among policy makers, practitioners and researchers … in the pursuit of universal access to quality education for all – even for those who find themselves under the control or influence of ANSAs’. There is very little doubt in my mind that this report must have prompted interesting discussion at the workshop in June on this issue. Hopefully the report of the workshop will be coming out soon, and when it does, we will post it here.

Conviction of FDLR leaders by German Court

September 28, 2015
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Logo of the FDLR

Today a German court convicted two Rwandan rebel leaders for crimes committed in the DRC. The two rebel leaders, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, were the president and vice president of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda, FDLR).

Murwanashyaka was found guilty of war crimes in relation to five FDLR attacks in eastern Congo and of leading a terrorist organization. Musoni was found guilty of leading a terrorist organization but acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The two men were sentenced to 13 and 8 years in prison, respectively. After the verdict, Musoni was released immediately due to the time that he has already spent in prison.

The trial against Murwanashyaka and Musoni which began four years ago is the first that has been taken under the German 2002 Code of Crimes Against International Law (CCAIL). The CCAIL incorporates the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into German law. It gives German courts the universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, irrespective of where they are committed (for more on this legislation, see here).

Today’s verdict constitutes the first successful prosecution of members of the FDLR. In 2011, the International Criminal Court declined to confirm the charges against Callixte Mbarushimana, the Exective Secretary of the FDLR.

The FDLR is a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in territory in eastern Congo bordering with Rwanda. It was formed in 1994 after ethnic Hutus, some of whom were perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, fled to neighbouring DRC. The group’s stated aim is to overthrow the Tutsi dominated government in Kigali.

The FDLR’s top leadership was known to have been situated in Germany and France but maintained their control and influence in DR Congo. In 2009, a UN report alleged that the group relied upon a vast international network of supporters in at least 25 countries. It found that Murwanashyaka was helping negotiate armed shipments to the group as well as organizing money transfers to commanders on the ground. According to the report he was also handling money which had been raised by the group through the illicit sale of natural resources.

According to the report, phones logs showed that Murwanashyaka had made more than 240 calls to satellite phones used by FDLR field commanders, including numerous calls to the telephone of General Sylvestre Muducumura, the rebel movement’s army chief in eastern Congo. According to the report, deserters had reported that Muducumura did not carry out any major military operation without first consulting Murwanashyaka.

In line with these findings, both Murwanashyaka an Musoni have been convicted of having committed crimes in the DRC from Germany where both have lived for the last twenty years. The Prosecution brought evidence that Murwanashyaka communicated with the first general of the FDLR in the ground in the DRC by satellite phone and mobile phone. His deputy, Straton Musoni, was alleged to have issued orders to the FDLR militia from Germany via satellite telephone, SMS and emails.

When the trial started in 2011, the pair were accused of committing 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 of war crimes. During the course of the trial, many of the charges were dropped including some of those relating to the use of child soldiers and rape. It has been suggested that these charges may be the result of a questionable level of investigation on the part of the prosecution.

Indeed, criticisms of the trial have been numerous. In particular, the defence lawyers have repeatedly criticised the trial as being politically motivated and instigated by the Kigali government. There have been also numerous criticisms of the quality of the translating during the trial with Murwanashyaka reportedly quarreling frequently with the court interpreters about the exact translation of the texts. The judge apparently said that the problems encountered during the trial and the time it took had been “unacceptable”.

The case highlights the logistical difficulties of conducting criminal prosecutions many thousands of miles from where the crimes were committed. Indeed, during the trial, it was highlighted that German authorities faced considerable difficulties in securing the safety of those who testified from the DRC, after their testimony. The case also highlights the dilemma of how to make prosecutions in third countries meaningful for those on the ground in the countries where the crimes were committed.

That being said the conviction of the two men can also be seen as sending an important message to war criminals seeking a safe haven in third countries. It also constitutes a warning to persons in diaspora communities that their support for, and involvement with, rebel groups abroad may constitute criminal acts. Perhaps most importantly of all, it sends an important message to the leadership of the FDLR which continues to remain active in the areas of the DRC surrounding Lake Kivu that their crimes have not been forgotten.

Arrest Warrant against Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi made public

September 28, 2015

As a postscript to my previous post on the arrest of Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi at the weekend, his arrest warrant was made public today and can be found here with redactions. Mr Al Faqi’s first appearance before the Court is scheduled for 11am on Wednesday 30th September 2015.

Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi surrendered to ICC for war crimes against mausoleums and mosques in Timbuktu, Mali

September 26, 2015

Today, Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi (Abu Tourab), was surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the authorities of Niger and arrived at the Court’s Detention Centre in the Netherlands. Mr Al Faqi is accused of war crimes committed against religious and historical monuments in Timbuktu, Mali, between about 30 June 2012 and 10 July 2012, when the city was under the control of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (“AQIM”) and Ansar Eddine, a mainly Tuareg movement associated with AQIM.

Specifically, Mr Al Faqi is accused by the  Prosecutor of having committed, individually and jointly with others, facilitated or otherwise contributed to intentional direct attacks against nine mausoleums and one mosque. According to the Prosecutor, Mr Al Faqi, was actively involved in the occupation of Timbuktu. He was a member of Ansar Eddine, working at the leadership level coordinating operations between the two groups in control of the area. The Prosecutor alleges that, until September 2012, Mr Al Faqi was at the head of the “Hesbah” (“Manners’ Brigade”) which was operational from May 2012. He is also alleged to have been associated with the work of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu and participated in executing its decisions.

The case The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi is the first in the context of the ICC Prosecutor’s investigation regarding the situation in Mali. It is also the first case to be brought before the ICC concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments.

The situation in Mali was referred to the Court by the government of Mali on 13 July 2012. On 16 January 2013, the Prosecutor opened an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Mali since January 2012.

See for previous posts on this blog on the Mali situation:-

Why Mali should immediately sign the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. NB: Mali acceded to the Second Protocol on 15 November 2012 utilising the expedited procedure available in times of armed conflict which ensured that it came into force immediately.

The French Intervention in Mali and Additional Protocol II. 

The Narrative of Islamic State Defectors

September 21, 2015

There was an interesting report published today on the defectors from the Islamic State by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London. The report concludes that defectors from the Islamic State are a new and growing phenomenon. The authors of the report interview 58 defectors and analyse the information these interviews provide about the group and the territory under their control. Interestingly, the report identifies three major narratives for people to join the group:-

The first relates to the Syrian conflict and the atrocities carried out by the Assad regime;

The second relates to faith and ideology and the opportunity to be part of a perfect Islamic State; and

The narrative is a response to personal needs or material needs such as the promise of brotherhood or financial reward.

Identifying these narratives is important because the report shows that they are often reflected back in the reasons that fighters leave the group. The main narratives that were identified to explain members’ defection from the group were as follows:-

Infighting between the Islamic State an other Sunni groups and the failure of the IS to confront the Assad regime;

Brutality against other Sunni Muslims (but interestingly no comment regarding brutality against non-Muslims);

Corruption and un-Islamic behaviour such as unfairness, inequality and racism;

Quality of life and harsh realities of battle

The report details the obstacles which defectors face leaving the group and the risks they face in terms of reprisals and prosecution. The report ends by identifying the value of these narratives which shatter the image of unification of the group. It ends with the following recommendations:-

For governments and activists to recognize the value and credibility of defector narratives;

To provide defectors with opportunities to speak out;

To assist them in resettlement and ensure their safety;

To remove legal disincentives that prevent them from going public

It concludes that the 58 defectors that it interviewed were only a fraction of those who are ready to defect or who have defected but who are, as yet, unwilling to share their experiences.

News Roundup – 7-14 September 2015

September 14, 2015

Throughout the month of September, Lawfare, EJILTalk! and Intercross will be running a joint series following up on this summer’s 3rd Annual Transatlantic Dialogue on International Law and Armed Conflict which took place at Oxford University.

On Lawfare, Joanna Harrington blogs: Querying the roles for human rights bodies in the interplay between international human rights law and international humanitarian law. 

Noam Lubell: The legal questions about the UK’s drone strikes in Syria. 

Dapo Akande: Embedded troops and the use of force in Syria.

New report from Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: Central African Republic: attacks on schools endangering students. 

Statement of the Prosecutor of the ICC following the confirmed death of LRA commander Okot Odhiambo. 

Red cross to civilians: spare civilians in lumad crisis in Philippines. 


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