Islamic law, jihadists and humanitarian norms: IRIN series

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.

IRIN networkOn 24th April, the IRIN published an informative series of articles by Heba Aly on the intersection between Islamic law, jihadists and humanitarian norms. In a series of reports, Aly explores the tension and overlap between Islamic jurisprudence and international humanitarian law. She also reports on how jihadists are interpreting Islamic edicts , and how humanitarians are using those same principles to further access.

The first article in the four-part series entitled Islamic Law and the Rules of War looks at the relationship between international humanitarian law and Islamic law. It asks whether humanitarian norms can be found in Islamic law and whether Islamic law is compatible with international humanitarian law. It goes on to examine how a number of discrete issues relevant to humanitarian protection are handled in Islamic law. These include issues such as the permissibility of the use of force, the protection of civilians, the treatment of muslims versus non-muslims, the destruction of civilian property, the protection of prisoners of war, the principle of proportionality and accountability for war crimes.

The second artice in the series is entitled Jihadi jurisprudence? Militant Interpretations of Islamic Laws of War. This article examines a number of communications by jihadi groups in which they have set out their interpretation and application of the laws of war. In particular, the article links to a useful policy briefing by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights which examines declarations and statements of armed groups and draws conclusions about the normative policies of armed groups relating to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It focuses in particular on jihadi groups’ approach to issues including the targeting of civilians, occupation, targeting fellow muslims and limits on militant action. It also highlights a number of debates within jihadi circles regarding the interpretation of certain humanitarian norms.

The third article in the series is entitled Can Islamic Law be an Answer for Humanitarians?. The article examines the use of Islamic law’s humanitarian provisions by humanitarian actors to negotiate access with armed groups in the Muslim world. It shows how some humanitarian organisations do this by highlighting the linkages between international humanitarian law and islamic law. It demonstrates that other humanitarian organisations use figures of authority such as mullahs and Islamic scholars in order frame their arguments for humanitarian access along religious lines. The article highlights the relative benefits of these approaches and also identifies some of their limitations. It also highlights some of the ethical dilemmas which humanitarian organisations may encounter when engaging in religious debates.

Perhaps most helpful to readers of this blog is the fourth article in the series which is entitled Rough Guide to Islamic Rules of Law. The article’s aim is to provide a ‘study guide’ to the increasing body of work on the intersections between Islam, international humanitarian law (IHL) and the protection of civilians. The article provides links to translations of Islamic law texts relevant to those working on issues relevant to armed groups, secondary commentaries to these primary tests and the main academic commentaries and authors on the topics. It also provides links to reading lists and web seminars on the issues raised in the four articles above.

All in all, a very helpful digest of information. Thank you IRIN!

For posts on this issue on the Armed Groups blog see:-

Mullah Omar urges the Taliban to avoid civilian deaths, a cause to celebrate? 

Religion – not IHL – a source of rules in the conflict in Syria? 


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