Free Syrian Army announce they will apply Geneva Conventions and welcome ICRC visits

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

Just after posting the post below ‘Religion – not IHL – a source of rules in the conflict in Syria?’ , I saw a reference on twitter to the fact that the Free Syrian Army has declared that they will apply the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, specifically those provisions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

I have transcribed yesterday’s full statement from the FSA from the English subtitles under their video announcement below:-

“In the name of God, most merciful, most compassionate, after requests from some of our fellow Syrians and the International Community, we, the Free Syrian Army, announce that we treat all captives from the regime and its shabbiha according to international laws.

And that we are committed – as best as we can – to applying the articles and sub-articles of the Geneva Convention No. 4 (sic) that details the treatment of prisoners of war. We guarantee them a proper human treatment, that includes meeting their needs of food and medical attention. We try to keep them as far as possible from battlefields and areas that could endanger their lives.

We also announce that we are quite ready to receive delegates from the International Red Cross on a regular basis, to insure what we just said, and also to reassure their families and relatives. We are committed to treating them in a humane way.

And we tell everyone that we are revolting against a barbarous regime that always tortured and treated detainees and arrestees in brutal ways that led to the death of many, that’s why we can never adopt the behaviour of that very entity that we are revolting against”.

Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation or the authenticity of the video.

The fact that the FSA has announced its adherence to international law and in particular the Geneva Convention 3 relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs) is a positive development. Geneva Convention 3 provides significantly greater protection for those detained by opposition fighters, than the relatively sparse protections contained in Common Article 3.

In declaring that it will apply Geneva Convention 3 to the conflict, the FSA is showing a willingness to adhere to treaty obligations above and beyond those which would normally apply to a non-international armed conflict. This is specifically encouraged by common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions which urges parties to a non-international armed conflict to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions in the Conventions.

Similar undertakings have been provided in inter alia the Spanish Civil War (when both sides agreed to adhere to the principles contained in 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs), the Biafran conflict in Nigeria (when the government announced it would observe the rules of the Geneva Conventions) and the war of independence in Algeria (when the Algerian National Liberation Front announced it would adhere to the Geneva Conventions).

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