Applying International Law to Armed Groups: On the Recruitment of Children or their Use in Armed Conflict

Posted by Jeneba Project on Thursday, April 10, 2014 Under: Articles

Could Armed Groups be Held Accountable under International Law?

International law remains unclear about its direct application to armed groups. Even international laws that unequivocally apply to non-state actors fail to specifically mention armed groups.

Increased violations of international law by armed groups has led a few scholars to speculate the idea of including armed groups in treaty-making.

According to Sophie Rondeau, Legal Adviser at the Canadian Red Cross, “[i]nclusion of armed groups in the development of legal instruments binding them could limit the possibility of excuses offered by such groups to justify their disregard of humanitarian law obligations.“

However, Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of the Red Cross, explains that states in the international system have always viewed armed groups as enemies to be destroyed by firepower, and therefore not welcome as state equivalents that could be bound by international agreements.

There are many advantages to a state-centric system of international law, but the most fundamental advantage in relation to the use of children in armed conflicts by armed groups is the element of permanence, in terms of the accountability mechanism inherent in a state-centric system. States may not reject their international law obligations merely as a result of a change in government, and unless a treaty establishes differently, treaties are binding upon the parties in respect of their entire territory. Therefore, to open treaty responsibilities to armed groups will not only raise more issues concerning interpretation and application of international law, it could also lead to divergent claims concerning the object and purpose of the treaty. Most armed groups are not permanent, and so would their commitments.

No matter the justification for including armed groups in international law making, Olivier Bangerter of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has stated that “the idea that armed groups have an issue with IHL because they have not contributed to its formulation and cannot ratify it seems wrong…” And if the idea is to induce respect for and compliance with international law among armed groups, then the solution is not to make them contracting parties when international law is already assumed to be territorial in scope and application.

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Tags: "joseph kaifala" "child soldiers" "armed groups" war africa "child combatants" "convention on the right of the child" 
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KATEHUN KATEHUN (pronounced Ka-te-hun)-is a Mende word for a symposium or community center where disputes are settled. Everyone is permitted to make his/her case before a presiding chief in an open forum. On this forum, I write primarily for those who stand committed to the Rule of Law in Africa and to the value that our future is better determined by the government of the people, by the people, and in service for the people. To advance the African value of Ubuntu through International Law and the Principles of a United Nations, which propels us towards Life in Larger Freedom.
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