Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper: ‘Internal Control: Codes of Conduct within Insurgent Groups’

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.

‘The Small Arms Survey has brought out a new occasional paper called ‘Internal Control: Codes of Conduct within Insurgent Groups’.

The report is written by Olivier Bangerter who works as a Senior Researcher at the Small Arms Survey. Between 2001 and 2011, Olivier worked at the ICRC. Between 2008 and 2011, he served as an adviser on  dialogues with armed groups. Through his work, he has met current and former members of about 60 armed groups throughout the world.

The introduction to the report states that it sets out to;

  1. define more methodologically what constitutes a code of conduct and how it compares to other types of internal regulations known to have been used by armed groups;
  2. reflect on the conditions under which codes of conduct are effective in controlling the behaviour of fighters, by means of case studies; and
  3. examine whether codes of conduct are a potential tool for enhancing respect for humanitarian norms, with a particular focus on weapons control.

The report’s main conclusions are presented in the summary of the report as follows:-

It is important not to group all internal regulations together under the label ‘codes of conduct’. Different regulations have discrete uses and provide distinct pieces of information on an armed group;

Based on available documentation, armed groups have issued no fewer than seven distinct types of internal regulations of varying lengths and purposes. These include oaths, codes of conduct, standing orders, operation orders, military manuals, internal organization documents and penal codes;

Many factors help explain the effectiveness of codes of conduct. To be effective, their content must be clear, short, relevant and written in a language that is understandable by fighters. Regulations have more impact when they are generated from within the group, are widely disseminated to fighters and benefit from the strong backing of the group’s leadership;

The content of a code is by definition general and rarely addresses weapons control issues explicitly. armed groups appear to rely on standing and operation orders to regulate the management and use of arms by their fighters.

The report is said to be aimed at the international criminal courts, humanitarian sector and research community. From a first glance, it looks as if it will be an extremely valuable document that will assist scholars and practitioners in these fields deepen their understanding of codes of conduct and have a better appreciation of their utility.

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