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News Roundup – 26th February – 4th March

March 5, 2019

How diaspora communities influence terrorist groups

Ten Islamic State members executed by rival militants in northwest Syria

Fierce fighting as SDF pounds last ISIL-held pocket in Syria

Wrath of the Olives: Tracking the Afrin insurgency through social media

UN report suggests Turkish-backed groups commit war crimes in Afrin

Taliban suicide team attacks Afghan base in Helmand

Explainer: Who are Kashmir’s armed groups?

‘Crippling’ attacks force Doctors Without Borders to close ebola centers in Congo

South Sudan’s armed groups commit to end violations against children

The armed groups propping up Venezuela’s government

Geneva Academy Briefing: State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed in the State’s Territory by Armed Non-State Actors

March 1, 2019

Last week, the Geneva Academy published a new report by Tatyana Eatwell on State responsibility for human rights violations committed in the State’s territory by armed non-State actors.

The author, Tatyana Eatwell, explores various scenarios, including situations where an ANSA operates independently of any state and controls territory. She acknowledges that these situations of de facto control over a territory by an ANSA give rise to a protection gap where victims of human rights violations committed by the ANSA are left without recourse to remedy. This question of jurisdiction does not arise for the application of international humanitarian law (IHL): in situations of armed conflict to which the ANSA is a party, the ANSA will be responsible for violations of IHL it has committed pursuant to Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary IHL.

The author, therefore, concludes that in situations of armed conflict, the state’s loss of control over part of its territory will give rise to a protection gap with respect to the substantive rights and freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law (IHRL), and not protected under IHL. Addressing this protection gap, the author explains that the United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms have sought to close this gap by invoking the responsibility of the ANSA itself. However, she acknowledges that there is a lack of agreement as to whether ANSAs are bound by IHRL, and if so, what the nature of their obligations might be.

The report is part of the Geneva Academy’s multi-year project that focuses on human rights responsibilities and armed non-state actors (ANSAs).

News Roundup – 19th February – 25th February

February 26, 2019

Meeting ISIS fighters in Baghouz, eastern Syria

Swiss citizen who fought with Christian group against ISIS faces military court

Swedish court says abuses against ISIS fighters still war crimes

Yemen: Houthis postpone partial withdrawal from Hudaydah

Kashmir: Gunfight between rebels and Indian soldiers kills five

Kashmiri armed groups warn of more attacks in India

Kashmir militants kill again as trouble grows between India and Pakistan

Cancellation of Pakistan trip revives debate over Taliban’s ability to travel

First person: To stop ebola, ask the rebels to help

Duterte to Bangsamoro Transition team: Work on decommissioning of rebel arms

News Roundup – 29th January – 18th February

February 19, 2019

29th January – 4th February

Syria: Arrests, torture by armed group

Yemen government, Houthi rebels meet on UN ship to discuss truce

Libya’s El Sharara oilfield won’t reopen until occupiers leave – NOC

Afghan forces lose ground as peace efforts continue: Report

Central African Republic armed groups reach peace deal

A cold war in Myanmar and the dangers of a protracted ceasefire

Myanmar rebel groups consider alliance against government

Colombia: Five armed conflicts – what’s happening?

The unbearable hypocrisy of the ELN

Hezbollah’s backing of Maduro may shine light on links with Venezuela

5th February – 11th February

Daesh leader flees coup attempt by own fighters

Analysis: The budding insurgency in southern Syria

Zawahiri criticizes jihadists in Syria for clinging to territory under Turkey’s protection

Is HTS winning hearts and minds in Syria?

Yemen: Key pro-govt forces fighting rebels

Shabaab assassinates more high-ranking Somali military personnel

CAR peace deal calls for truth commission, joint patrols: AFP

The Central African Republic government and 14 armed groups sign milestone peace agreement

‘Overreacting to failure’: Facebook’s new Myanmar strategy baffles local activists

Colombia makes peace talks with ELN illegal, demobilization of armed groups virtually impossible

12th February – 18th February

Stop the war on children: Protecting children in 21st century conflict

Isis Briton Shamima Begum pleads to return to UK after giving birth

Analysis: Hay’at Tahrir al-sham and Hurras al-Din reach a new accord

Syria: Civilians face familiar threats in rebel-held areas

Aid agencies pull out of Idlib in face of new terror threat

Libya remains a battleground eight years after Gaddafi revolt

Libya: Civilians killed as Haftar prolongs fighting in Derna

Suicide attack kills 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

Dozens killed in Indian Kashmir suicide bomb attack

Nigeria rebels threaten more attacks if Buhari is reelected

Engaging Armed Non-State Actors on the Protection of Health Care: Some Promising Steps

February 18, 2019

Attacks against health care in armed conflicts represent one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our days. In a number of ongoing situations, medical workers are kidnapped, injured or killed, medical facilities and transports are bombed, shelled or looted, wounded fighters and patients are often under attacked and fighting takes place within or near health care facilities. Access to medical services has also been obstructed in a number of places. While the legal obligations of parties to armed conflicts seem to be straight-forward (although some deserve further analysis), implementing strategies specifically aimed at improving their compliance is still a challenge. This piece highlights three important and complementary steps now in place to address this situation, particularly with respect to armed non-State actors (ANSAs): i) the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2286, together with the UN Secretary General’s list of recommendations pursuant this Resolution; ii) the UN Secretary General’s list of actors that commit grave violations of children’s rights, which includes amongst them those perpetrating attacks against hospitals; iii) the new Deed of Commitment by Geneva Call on the protection of health care.

The Humanitarian Context

One of the latest ICRC reports recorded 2,398 incidents of violence against health care in 11 countries, from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2014. In total, more than 4,000 people were victims of this type of violence. According to the ICRC, ANSAs were responsible for more than 700 of those incidents. Although many of these consisted of mere threats, ANSAs have also killed health care personnel and patients. Additionally, they have looted health care facilities and forced medical staff to provide free treatment and treat their own members before others (here, at 7-8). By occupying or using medical facilities, ANSAs have also put them at risk of attacks by other parties.

These behaviours have entailed different consequences, such as loss of life, injury, destruction, and deprivation of vital care. Besides their immediate impact, attacks against health care personnel and facilities can also paralyse the delivery of emergency services and disrupt access to health care for the wider civilian population, and even for wounded fighters. Attacks may also lead to health care staff leaving conflict areas, thus further exacerbating the trend. Finally, in the long term this could certainly affect the provision of medical care even after the fighting has stopped.

Conversely, ANSAs sometimes act as providers of health care, including treating their own wounded fighters. Some ANSAs have even developed their own ways to care for the populations living in areas under their control. Some examples include the EPLF in Eritrea, POLISARIO in Western Sahara, FARC-EP in Colombia, the LTTE in Sri Lanka and Hezbollah in Lebanon (Murray, at 258). Similarly, it has been reported that members of the Free Syrian Army have set up a secret hospital to care for individuals.

As can be seen, ANSAs’ policies on health care can be varied, and while some of them have attacked health facilities, workers and patients, other groups have actively provided for health care. Interestingly, the consultation process carried out by the ICRC between 2012 and 2014 with 36 ANSAs indicates that there is generally a strong potential for ANSAs’ engagement on this issue. It is indeed affirmed that “[t]he vast majority of armed groups consulted agree with the need to respect and protect health care [and] [s]ome have acted on this commitment by integrating their obligations towards health care in their doctrine, education, training and sanctions” (at 15).

Compliance with International Law by ANSAs: Some Reflections

In order to understand the variation of ANSAs’ behaviours with respect to health care, it is important to briefly address their reasons to comply or not with international law. Generally, compliance has been defined as “behavioural conformity with existing norms and regulations”. In the context of ANSAs, “this means the observed match between behaviours of non-state armed groups and rules of IHL” (Jo, 65). Importantly, compliance should be seen as a spectrum, rather than as a two-way switch that is either on or off.  ANSAs, in this sense, are not entities that either violate or respect the whole international legal framework, but they may instead follow certain rules while disregarding others.

In this context, it shall not come as a surprise that while some of them have deliberately attacked medical personnel and facilities, others have attempted to evacuate and treat wounded fighters and civilians in an attempt to respect international law.  Generally, in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), ANSAs’ respect can be linked to several factors, such as their lack of knowledge of the law, or the absence of an incentive to abide by the applicable rules. They may also deliberately decide to breach their international obligations. As affirmed by Krieger, “[a]ctual decisions to obey a legal norm result from a complex mixture of diverse motivations. Power relations as well as historical, political, social and anthropological conditions determine these motivations is that compliance is context-dependent” (at 4-5). ANSAs’ fragmented structures, their lack of a centralized command authority and their capacity to implement the law can also present important challenges for compliance (2017 Garance Talks Report, at 15). Furthermore, ANSAs may have different approaches to specific legal provisions throughout the conflict – a group going through a peace process, possibly looking for political legitimacy, may adopt a different attitude than a group whose main goal is to control the civilian population or to show its strength.

Some Promising Examples of Engagement

When dealing with engaging ANSAs on the protection of health care, an important step has been the UN Security Council Resolution 2286 (2016), the first-ever resolution to address attacks on health services in armed conflict. The UN Secretary General published a list of recommendations pursuant this Resolution, including some “measures to enhance the protection of and prevent acts of violence against the wounded and sick, medical and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, and their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, and to better ensure accountability for such acts” (at 1). In particular, Recommendation 7, entitled “Promoting awareness and compliance”, affirms that in order to promote a culture of respect for IHL and human rights law, with a focus on the right to health care and the protection of medical care in armed conflict, member States and parties to conflict, with the support from the UN and relevant organizations, “should undertake training programmes for military personnel and members of non-State armed groups on the protection of medical care in armed conflict” (at 6). Recommendation 9 also encourages parties to take and enforce internal measures, such as command orders, dissemination activities, sanctions, etc., aimed at enhancing the protection of medical care in armed conflict (at 6-8).

Two complementary examples can be identified on engaging ANSAs on this issue. The first one leads us to examine ANSAs’ signing of so-called “Action Plans” established by the UN, and leading to the groups being successfully delisted from the UN Secretary General’s list of actors that commit one or more of five grave violations of children’s rights (as denial of humanitarian access to children does not trigger the listing process). Although these are mostly oriented to the protection of children, one specifically relates to attacks against schools and hospitals, and the UN Secretary General has been listing and examining parties’ behaviours, including ANSAs, that carried out attacks against health care facilities (here for the last report). Even though no listed parties have yet put in place measures specifically on this topic, there is nothing to prevent an “Action Plan” concluded between the UN and an ANSA on the protection of health care, in particular considering that several groups have signed these with respect to other violations (at 40-41).

The second example can be found in Geneva Call’s new Deed of Commitment for the protection of health care in armed conflict, launched in November 2018. This tool adds to the other three declarations already implemented on the prohibition of sexual violence and gender discrimination, the protection of children and the ban of anti-personnel mines. They all allow ANSAs to pledge to respect specific humanitarian norms and be held publicly accountable for their commitments.

The new Deed includes obligations for ANSAs not to attack health care personnel, facilities and medical transports (arts. 3, 4 and 5), and to give due warning in case they are “used outside their humanitarian functions to commit harmful acts, allowing them necessary time to remedy the situation or to safely evacuate” (art. 6). ANSAs also commit to “[e]nsure, maintain and provide access for affected populations to essential health care facilities, goods and services, without adverse distinction” in areas where they exercise authority (art. 8). Finally, a common provision to all Deeds affirms that ANSAs agree to take necessary measures in order to enforce their commitments (through internal orders, training, and sanctions) as well as to cooperate with Geneva Call to verify their compliance with them. Considering the success Geneva Call has had with respect to other thematic areas there are reasons to hope that it will be widely adopted.  

Introducing Ezequiel Heffes as co-editor and a reflection

February 18, 2019

I’m very pleased to announce that Ezequiel Heffes has joined the blog as an editor. Ezequiel is probably known to many for his work in the area of armed groups and international law.

Ezequiel is a Thematic Legal Adviser at Geneva Call, a humanitarian NGO that engages armed non-State actors in the respect of international law. He holds an LL.M. in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights from the Geneva Academy, and a law degree from the University of Buenos Aires School of Law. Prior to joining Geneva Call, Ezequiel worked as a field and protection delegate and as head of office for the ICRC in Colombia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has participated in research projects and has published various articles and book chapters on armed non-State actors, including in the International Review of the Red Cross, the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law and the Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law. He will be writing on the blog in his personal capacity.

At the same time as Ezequiel joins the blog, Annyssa Bellal will step down from her position as editor. Thank you Annyssa for your contribution over the last couple of years!

As I write this post, it seems like a good time to reflect on the history of this blog. I set it up in 2012 when I was doing my PhD on armed groups and human rights law (for my book on the topic – see here). I’d just had my first child, and it was hard to travel or network in any meaningful way with a small baby at home. I set up this blog to find an online way to make connections with other researchers working on similar issues.

The two main purposes of the blog were and remain ‘information sharing’ and ‘community building’ between individuals and organisations working on issues related to armed groups. In addition to publishing analytical posts, the blog aims to provide updates on news stories and publicize academic journal articles and seminars, talks and conferences on issues related to armed groups.

During the blog’s lifetime, we have posted over 900 posts which have reached over 55,000 visitors from over 180 countries. We have posted literally hundreds of news roundups and nine legal roundups (for the most recent legal roundup see here), which we know are valued by our readers. All our posts are carefully tagged so that researchers can search the blog easily using our word could and search button. We have had guest posts from Cedric Ryngaert, Ido Rosenzeig, Marissa R. Brodney, Lily Rueda Guzman, Erik Zouave (see here, here and here), Jennifer Easterday, Nelleke van Amstel, Diana Contreras-Garduno and Dan Saxon.

Our most read posts remain those dealing with the organisation requirement for non-international armed conflict, the geographical scope of IHL and the unilateral declaration by the Polisario Front.

We have some exciting plans for the blog in the coming months – so please keep following the blog, and watch this space! Also, please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to write a guest post or have a relevant publication that you think we should publicize.

Introducing Sam Jackson as news editor

February 15, 2019

Sam Jackson will take over posting the news roundups on the blog for the coming months. Sam did his LLM in Public International Law at Utrecht University in 2016/7, specialising in international human rights law and international humanitarian law. He wrote his thesis on the legal framework governing targeting in relation to child soldiers. He is currently looking for positions in the field of international humanitarian law and working as a student assistant on the blog, under the supervision of Katharine Fortin.