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Generating Respect for International Humanitarian Law: The Establishment of Courts by Organized Non-State Armed Groups in Light of the Principle of Equality of Belligerents

Part of the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law book series (YIHL,volume 18)

Abstract

In the last few decades, different organized non-State armed groups have created judicial bodies in non-international armed conflicts. Despite their undisputed relevance, their establishment has not been thoroughly analysed, even if they could be included within those measures taken by these non-State entities in order to enhance respect for international humanitarian law. This article aims to explore some legal consequences of such actions. Mainly, two issues are dealt with: (a) the reasons why organized non-State armed groups are bound to respect IHL; (b) the lack of a unified view on which legal framework regulates the establishment of those “courts”. In order to achieve an explanation that grasps the complexity of these issues, the article adopts an inclusive approach, which embraces the application of the principle of equality of belligerents as a basis to affirm that the regulation of these judicial bodies by the “laws” of armed groups is the most appropriate solution in order to generate compliance for IHL.

Keywords

  • Organized Non-State armed groups
  • Equality of belligerents
  • International humanitarian law
  • Non-international armed conflicts
  • Courts

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Recent surveys have concluded that the great majority of ongoing armed conflicts around the world are non-international in character. According to different sources, the total number of armed conflicts in recent years fluctuates between thirty and thirty-eight, and only two or three of them are considered to be international. See Casey–Maslen 2014, pp. 28–29.

  2. 2.

    For a historical analysis, see Moir 2002, pp. 4–11 and Sivakumaran 2012, pp. 9–29.

  3. 3.

    d’Aspremont 2008.

  4. 4.

    La Rosa and Wuerzner 2008, pp. 327–329.

  5. 5.

    It has become progressively clear that many rules that originally regulated international armed conflicts have over time also become applicable as customary law in non-international armed conflicts. ICTY, Prosecutor v Duško Tadić, Judgement, 15 July 1999, Case No. IT-94-1-A, paras 96–127. See also Kälin and Künzli 2009, pp. 67–76 and 158; Henckaerts and Doswald-Beck 2005 and International Committee of the Red Cross (2008) Improving Respect for International Humanitarian Law in Non-International Armed Conflicts. https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/icrc_002_0923.pdf. Accessed 2 June 2016, pp. 9–10.

  6. 6.

    See among others Moir 2002, pp. 52–88 and Pejić 2011, p. 189.

  7. 7.

    Geneva Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, opened for signature 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 31 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC I); Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, opened for signature 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 85 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC II); Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, opened for signature 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 135 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC III); Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, opened for signature on 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC IV).

  8. 8.

    Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, opened for signature 8 June 1977, 1125 UNTS 609 (entered into force 7 December 1978).

  9. 9.

    See among others, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, opened for signature 14 May 1954, 249 UNTS 240 (entered into force 7 August 1956), Article 19; Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996) annexed to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects, opened for signature 10 October 1980, 2048 UNTS 93 (entered into force 3 December 1998), Article 1.2; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, opened for signature 25 May 2000, 2173 UNTS 222 (entered into force 12 February 2002), Article 4.

  10. 10.

    Willms 2015, p. 151.

  11. 11.

    Doswald-Beck 2015, p. 491.

  12. 12.

    See Heffes et al. 2015, pp. 52–60 for an insightful analysis in this regard; and generally Clapham 2006, pp. 271–316; and Sivakumaran 2012, pp. 236–246.

  13. 13.

    Klabbers 2013, pp. 21–40; and Clapham 2012, pp. 54–64, amongst many others.

  14. 14.

    La Rosa and Wuerzner 2008, pp. 327–329.

  15. 15.

    See generally Moir 2002, pp. 89–132; Sassòli et al. 2011, pp. 331–340; Stewart 2003, pp. 319–323; and Vité 2009, pp. 75–83.

  16. 16.

    Pictet 1952, p. 51.

  17. 17.

    Moir 2002, pp. 53–54; and Cassese 1981, p. 429.

  18. 18.

    Pictet 1960a, p. 34.

  19. 19.

    Cassese 1981, pp. 429–430.

  20. 20.

    Moir 2002, p. 54; and Cassese 1981, pp. 429–430.

  21. 21.

    For further critiques, see Henckaerts 2002, pp. 123–137; and d’Aspremont and de Hemptinne 2012, pp. 98–99.

  22. 22.

    Somer 2007, p. 661; and Bellal et al. 2011, pp. 53–56.

  23. 23.

    Somer 2007, pp. 661–662; and Heffes and Kotlik 2014 for an analysis on special agreements concluded in NIACs as sources of IHL.

  24. 24.

    See ICTY, Prosecutor v Duško Tadić a/k/a “Dule”, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, 2 October 1995, Case No. IT-94-1-AR72, paras 107–108; UN Security Council (2005) Letter dated 31 January 2005 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/2005/60, Annex.

  25. 25.

    Sassòli 2010, p. 13.

  26. 26.

    Somer 2007, p. 662; and Heffes and Kotlik 2014, p. 1203.

  27. 27.

    See generally Bangerter 2012.

  28. 28.

    Several very interesting and even ground-breaking answers to some of these issues are proposed in Sassòli 2010, pp. 10–14.

  29. 29.

    Somer 2007, pp. 661–662; and generally Greenwood 1983.

  30. 30.

    Sassòli 2007, p. 246.

  31. 31.

    Somer 2007, pp. 663–664; but see Bellal et al. 2011, p. 56; and Moir 2002, p. 99.

  32. 32.

    International Committee of the Red Cross (2003) Improving Compliance with International Humanitarian Law: ICRC Experts Seminars. https://www.icrc.org/end/assets/files/other/improving_compliance_with_international_report_eng_2003.pdf. Accessed 29 September 2015, pp. 20–21; and Bangerter 2011, p. 357.

  33. 33.

    Bangerter 2011, p. 383.

  34. 34.

    Heffes et al. 2015, p. 59.

  35. 35.

    La Rosa and Wuerzner 2008, pp. 332–333.

  36. 36.

    Sassòli 2010, p. 30.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., pp. 13–26.

  38. 38.

    Sandoz et al. 1987, p. 1397; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976).

  39. 39.

    Sandoz et al. 1987, p. 1397.

  40. 40.

    Kleffner 2011, p. 451.

  41. 41.

    Sandoz et al. 1987, p. 1398.

  42. 42.

    Henckaerts and Doswald-Beck 2005, p. 355.

  43. 43.

    Pictet 1952, p. 54.

  44. 44.

    International Committee of the Red Cross (2016) Commentary on Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?documentId=4825657B0C7E6BF0C12563CD002D6B0B&action=openDocument. Accessed 14 April 2016 (ICRC CA3 Commentary), para 678.

  45. 45.

    Pictet 1952, p. 54.

  46. 46.

    Pictet 1958, p. 39.

  47. 47.

    See for instance UN Commission on Human Rights (1995) Situation of human rights in the Sudan. UN Doc. E/CN.4/RES/1995/77, para 15; and UN Commission on Human Rights (1989) Question of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Afghanistan, UN Doc. E/CN.4/RES/1989/67, para 11.

  48. 48.

    Zegveld 2002, p. 69.

  49. 49.

    Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, [2006] USSC, 548 U.S., p. 69.

  50. 50.

    Ibid., Dissenting Opinion of Judge Alito, p. 3.

  51. 51.

    See generally Greenwood 1983, pp. 221–234; and Heffes and Kotlik 2014, pp. 1201–1204.

  52. 52.

    Sassòli et al. 2011, p. 347: “[i]f IHL did not respect the principle of the equality of belligerents before it in non-international armed conflicts, it would have an even smaller chance of being respected”.

  53. 53.

    Also in this line, Willms 2015, p. 152: “[i]f ‘law’ [in terms of CA3] is interpreted as state law only, this could be understood as prohibiting armed groups to operate courts. In the context of humanitarian law, the term ‘law’ could also include law by an armed group.”

  54. 54.

    ICRC CA3 Commentary, above n 44, para 692.

  55. 55.

    Federal Political Department (1978) Official Records of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts (1974–1977): Volume 8. http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/RC-records_Vol-17.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2016, p. 360, para 20.

  56. 56.

    UK Ministry of Defence (2004) The Joint Service Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/27874/JSP3832004Edition.pdf. Accessed 29 September 2015, p. 404, fn 94.

  57. 57.

    Sandoz et al. 1987, p. 1339.

  58. 58.

    Sivakumaran 2012, p. 306.

  59. 59.

    Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, opened for signature 23 May 1969, 1155 UNTS 331 (entered into force 27 January 1980), Article 31(1).

  60. 60.

    Ibid., Article 31(3)(b).

  61. 61.

    UN General Assembly 2014, p. 20, para 42.

  62. 62.

    Bangerter 2012, p. 26 for a list of armed groups with disciplinary or penal codes.

  63. 63.

    Principios, Normativos y Medidas Dispuestas por el FMLN en el Transcurso de la Guerra 1991, quoted in Zegveld 2002, p. 70.

  64. 64.

    Zegveld 2002, p. 70.

  65. 65.

    Republic of Somaliland (2000) The Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland. http://theirwords.org/media/transfer/doc/1_so_somaliland_2000_30-dd4d73a4d9dee6e847790e82b247d881.pdf. Accessed 29 September 2015, Article 97.

  66. 66.

    The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Act (2003). http://theirwords.org/media/transfer/doc/1_sd_splm_a_2003_03-5fd4e4fabf407e670f236c8d3ecaf381.pdf. Accessed 29 September 2015, Articles 60 and ff.

  67. 67.

    Komala Central Committee (1985) Penal Procedure and Revolutionary Courts of Komala. http://theirwords.org/media/transfer/doc/ut_ir_komala_1985_10-353859694966ca4cab2010fdf0911b9e.pdf. Accessed 29 September 2015, Articles 1 and 4.

  68. 68.

    Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, Secretariat for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 1988, p. 20.

  69. 69.

    Doswald-Beck 2015, p. 489.

  70. 70.

    Willms 2015, p. 166.

  71. 71.

    Sassòli and Shani 2011, p. 430.

  72. 72.

    Ibid., pp. 430–431.

  73. 73.

    Munir 2011, Annex, p. 112, Article 38.

  74. 74.

    Ibid., p. 107, Article 11.

  75. 75.

    ICJ, Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v United States of America), Judgment, 27 June 1986, [1986] ICJ Rep 14, para 218.

  76. 76.

    Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, opened for signature 17 July 1998, 2187 UNTS 90 (entered into force 1 July 2002), Article 8(2)(c).

  77. 77.

    ICRC CA3 Commentary, above n 44, para 695.

  78. 78.

    Pictet 1960b, p. 44. According to Pictet in the Commentary to GC I, this provision was caused by States’ fear that its application may interfere with their right to lawfully suppress NSAGs. Furthermore, it was not intended to “constitute any recognition by the de jure Government that the adverse Party has authority of any kind” or “to give [that party] any right to special protection or any immunity, whatever it may be and whatever title it may give itself or claim”. Pictet 1952, p. 61.

  79. 79.

    There is also the possibility that the group is unwilling to carry out judicial activities and to create bodies for those purposes. The Forces Nouvelles in Ivory Coast serve as an example of this scenario. International Committee of the Red Cross (2005) Annual Report. http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/annual-report/icrc-annual-report-2005.htm. Accessed 30 September 2015, p. 128: “In Forces Nouvelles-controlled areas, the ICRC was concerned about detention conditions, the absence of a functioning judicial system and the consequent lack of judicial guarantees. It raised these issues on several occasions with the detaining authorities and the Forces Nouvelles’ leadership”.

  80. 80.

    It has been suggested that this is because NSAGs have fewer resources than states. Willms 2015, p. 175: “Indeed, armed groups have to devote a lot of their existing resources to their military because states usually try to defeat armed groups on their territory. Foreign states and the UN are, in most cases, not willing to provide aid in order to improve the judiciary of armed groups”.

  81. 81.

    Cismas 2014, p. 75.

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Acknowledgments

The author would also like to thank Manuel J. Ventura, Marcos D. Kotlik and Brian E. Frenkel for their comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.

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Heffes, E. (2016). Generating Respect for International Humanitarian Law: The Establishment of Courts by Organized Non-State Armed Groups in Light of the Principle of Equality of Belligerents. In: Gill, T. (eds) Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law Volume 18, 2015. Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, vol 18. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-141-8_7

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