Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Started in June 2018

Background

From Syria to Mali, Afghanistan or Yemen, the majority of today’s armed conflicts are non-international in character and involve one or several armed non-state actors (ANSAs). These often control territory and persons for a prolonged time and are involved in human rights violations. In these contexts, human rights monitoring mechanisms usually have restricted or no access at all.

International humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) share certain common objectives, but they differ in their scopes of application. IHRL applies at all times, while IHL applies only in cases of armed conflict. ANSAs which are parties to a conflict are subject to the obligations imposed by IHL. However, less legal clarity exists regarding the extent to which they are also legally bound to respect human rights in situations that are not covered by IHL or where IHL does not provide adequate guidance.

Up to now, it is still unclear and difficult to establish whether ANSAs’ IHRL obligations are anchored in some form of law or practice emerging from the resolutions adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Council. The issue of accountability and reparation for human rights violations committed by ANSAs is also a critical point of the debate. Apart from individual criminal responsibility, there is currently no judicial or quasi-judicial international mechanism to hold ANSAs per se accountable under IHRL.

The lack of a clear legal framework defining which human rights obligations are applicable to ANSAs as well as the absence of mechanisms ensuring monitoring, accountability and reparation thus affects the effective implementation and respect of the human rights of persons living under the control of ANSAs.

Objective

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address ANSAs’ human rights responsibilities, taking into account states’ own obligations for ANSAs human rights violations.

The project will also explore the interest of states in setting up and developing guiding principles or any other instruments outlining ANSAs’ human rights responsibilities.

In doing so, key issues will need to be clarified in the course of the project:

  • What are the key characteristics/types of ANSAs concerned by this issue?
  • What are the obligations of states that have lost control of part of their territory?
  • What are the criteria defining ‘de facto authorities’ and is there a common understanding among states and international organizations of the concept?
  • What are the capacity-related challenges that ANSAs may encounter in implementing human rights obligations, in particular so-called ‘positive obligations’?
  • What are the legal and political remedies available at the national and international level for ANSAs’ IHRL violations?

This project complements a larger research project that focuses on the practice and interpretation of selected IHL and human rights norms by ANSAs.

PROJECT'S DOCUMENTS

RESEARCHERS

Picture of Annyssa Bellal

Annyssa Bellal

Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law

Annyssa Bellal's areas of expertise include public international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and armed non-state actors.

Portrait of Emilie Max

Émilie Max

Researcher

Émilie Max's research focuses s on the intersection between international humanitarian law and international human rights law

Publications

Cover page of the publication

State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed in the State Territory by Armed Non-State Actors

December 2018

Tatyana Eatwell

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

View >

Cover of the In-Brief N°7

Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council

December 2016

Annyssa Bellal

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

View >

NEWS AND EVENTS

M-13 combatttants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo News

New Publication Explores State Responsibility for Human Rights Violations Committed by Armed Non-State Actors in its Territory

February 2019

Part of our multi-year project that focuses on human rights responsibilities and armed non-state actors (ANSAs), our new publication explores the particular aspects of state responsibility for human rights violations committed by ANSAs in its territory.

Read more >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

session of the Commission on Human Rights and Citizenship, Santiago News

New Research Brief Discusses the Role of National Human Rights Systems in Implementing International Human Rights Standards and Recommendations

June 2020

Our new Research discusses the approach, methodology and objectives of our new research project that aims at gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses affecting different National Human Rights Systems.

Read more

Desk with a folder and a pen News

78 New Students Start their Academic Year in Geneva and Online

September 2020

The 78 students of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and MAS in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law are starting their classes this week, both in Geneva and online.

Read more

Flags outside the Palais de Nations in Geneva Event

The UN @75: Challenges for the New Quarter-Century

September 2020, 16:00-18:00

The discussion will focus on issue areas at the heart of the UN’s mandate and where a renewed vision for collective global action is urgently called for: nuclear disarmament, humanitarian assistance, sustainable development and human rights.

Read more

Policeofficer from the back Event

Swiss Counter-Terrorism Laws: What are the Legal and Policy Challenges?

September 2020, 18:30-20:00

This panel will discuss the legal and policy challenges of the new Swiss laws in light of international law.

Read more

The International Court of Justice in session Short Course

Sources of Public International Law

8 January - February 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, looks at the sources from which public international law rules stem and at the entities that are empowered with the capacity of law-making in the international legal order. It aims at enabling participants to develop a global perception of the international normative system.

Read more

Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

15 April - May 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.

Read more

First annual conference of the Geneva Human Rights Platform Project

The Annual Conference of the Geneva Human Rights Platform

Started in June 2019

Read more

Human Rights Council: a general view of the room XX during the 31st regular opening of session, Geneva, Switzerland Project

Universality in the Human Rights Council

Completed in January 2015

This project, launched in 2016, examines different concepts of universality, maps contemporary challenges to the principle of HR universality in the context of specific themes covered by the HRC and discusses the role of the HRC in the promotion and protection of universally guaranteed HR.

Read more

Cover page of the book Publication

The UN Human Rights Council: A Practical Anatomy

published on September 2020

Eric Tistounet

Read more