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Research brief: From words to deeds: A research of armed non-state actors’ practice and interpretation of international humanitarian and human rights norms

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Colombia
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Geneva Call
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Garance Talks: armed groups and experts gathered in Geneva to discuss the conduct of hostilities in armed conflict

On 19 February, Geneva Call held its third session of the Garance Talks on the topic of the conduct of hostilities by armed non-State actors (ANSAs). The Garance Talks bring together experts and ANSAs to address the challenges faced by the latter when attempting to comply with international humanitarian norms.

As parties to armed conflicts, ANSAs carry out attacks against enemy persons and objects, often on a daily basis. Although international humanitarian law (IHL) provides for rules on how these attacks must be conducted, including those related to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions, how ANSAs interpret and apply these rules has remained insufficiently explored. For instance, the definition of who is and is not a civilian as well as what constitutes “direct participation in hostilities” may vary from one ANSA to another. Furthermore, although IHL requires parties to armed conflict to undertake a proportionality assessment before and during an attack, ANSAs may not have the factual capacity nor the knowledge to do it.

The meeting brought together ANSAs and selected experts to discuss these challenges and identify ways forward in order to enhance compliance with international law. Representatives of four ANSAs from some of the most serious conflict zones were present. In addition to discussing the normative framework, the meeting also addressed the integration of the rules governing the conduct of hostilities within ANSAs’ internal regulations and their actual implementation.

This edition of the Garance Talks was framed in the context of a research project undertaken by Geneva Call, together with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, which aims at understanding ANSAs’ practice and interpretation of humanitarian norms.

Geneva Call regularly organizes the Garance Talks -- meetings at the Villa Garance, Geneva Call's headquarter office -- to address challenges faced by ANSAs attempting to comply with humanitarian norms. While the first session of the Garance Talks took place in 2015 on the issue of ANSAs' positive obligations, the 2017 one dealt with the administration of justice and detention.