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Reasons why armed groups choose to respect international humanitarian law or not

30-06-2011 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 882, by Olivier Bangerter

The decision to respect the law – or not – is far from automatic, regardless of whether it is taken by an armed group or a state. Respect for IHL can only be encouraged, and hence improved, if the reasons used by armed groups to justify respect or lack of it are understood.

Summary

The decision to respect the law – or not – is far from automatic, regardless of whether it is taken by an armed group or a state. Respect for IHL can only be encouraged, and hence improved, if the reasons used by armed groups to justify respect or lack of it are understood and if the arguments in favour of respect take those reasons into account. Among the reasons for respecting the law, two considerations weigh particularly heavily for armed groups: their self-image and the military advantage. Among the reasons for non-respect, three are uppermost: the group’s objective, the military advantage, and what IHL represents according to the group.

Biography

Dr. Olivier Bangerter, a graduate in theology of both Lausanne (Masters) and Geneva (PhD) universities, recently joined the Small Arms Survey research project in Geneva as a senior researcher. He had previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) since 2001, and was the ICRC’s Advisor for Dialogue with Armed Groups from 2008 to 2011. In this capacity he met members and former members of some sixty armed groups around the world.


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