Looking back at 2019: Highlights from the blog

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.

2019 was a busy year on the Armed Groups and International Law blog, with the most guest posts ever from academics all over the world. We welcomed Ezequiel Heffes to the blog as an editor and Sam Jackson carried on his excellent work as news editor.

We started the year by publishing our traditional legal roundup which is a compilation of literature on topics relevant to non-international armed conflict, covering articles on issues such as the relationship between IHL and IHRL, jus ad bellum, sources of law, ICL, detention and targeting and weapons and foreign fighters. We are currently in the process of compiling a new roundup with literature from 2019, so please feel free to email us with articles, books, chapters and reports that you think should be included. For previous legal roundups, see here.

During the course of the year, we had some excellent and important posts. Ezequiel Heffes examined the problem of engaging armed groups on issues relating to healthcare, analysing the different ways in which armed groups can be engaged on this issue. In a prescient post, Alessandra Spadaro from the Geneva Academy reflected on the difficult situation relating to the detainees held by the SDF in Syria, reviewing the different possible options and showing them all to be problematic. This is a topic that was also addressed by Nicolas Sion and Anki Sjoberg from the new NGO Fight for Humanity whose post provided ten recommendations for the international community in relation to these detainees.

In March 2019, Frederic Mégret engaged in a probing enquiry into the source of the authority to engage in hostilities and to kill or wound without risking being prosecuted for it. Seeking to identify the sources for these prerogatives in IAC, Mégret opened a thought-provoking discussion of when and whether these sources might also be applied to armed groups.

In May, Luke Moffett from Queen’s University Belfast shared some fascinating preliminary findings of his new UK Arts and Humanities Research Council ‘Reparations, Responsibility and Victimhood in Transitional Societies’ project. The project explores how non-state armed groups contribute to reparations by exploring seven contexts and engaging with 18 groups.

In June, I wrote a post on the law relating to the collection of dead bodies after listening an amazing podcast by Rough Translation on Mosul. I have often googled Sroor Al-Husseini’s name since I wrote this post to try and find out what happened to this inspiring woman who started clearing bodies from the streets of Mosul, including ISIS fighters – but I have never come up with any further English-language updates. I hope she’s safe.

Also in June, Daniella Dam-de Jong from Leiden University addressed the difficult issue of the exploitation of natural resources by armed groups. In her post, she conducts an enquiry into whether there are circumstances in which international law provides a right for armed groups to exploit natural resources. She argues that a case can be made for assuming the existence of a right for armed groups to exploit natural resources when two cumulative conditions are met: the group exercises effective control over territory and exploitation must be strictly for humanitarian purposes.

Later in June, Marco Longobardo shared the reasoning behind his argument in his book on The Use of Armed Force in Occupied Territory (CUP 2018) that IAC rules govern conduct of hostilities when they occur in occupied territory even when they are between the occupier and an armed group rather than the occupied State. Explaining the legal basis for his position, he also identifies its pros and cons.

In August, Sareta Ashraph marked the five year anniversary of the attack by the Islamic State on the Yazidi community in Kocho by presenting the main findings of the demographic analysis of the attack carried out by the Yazidi Victims Demographic Documentation Project. The underlying paper sought to establish (i) the total number of named victims plus those unaccounted for (ii) the gender and age of identified victims, together with the types of violations suffered and (iii) analysed whether the findings matched with the evidence that emerged out of the testimony based documentation.

The biggest event of the last year on the blog was the book symposium that we held together with Opinio Juris on the book by Tilman Rodenhäuser Organising Rebellion:Non-State Armed Groups under IHL, IHRL and ICL. We were very thrilled to be able to give more attention to Tilman’s book and pleased to have so many excellent posts that were posted alternatively on the Armed Groups and International Law blog and Opinio Juris. Marco Sassòli, Ezequiel Heffes, Laurie Blank and myself commented on the book from an IHL perspective, Daragh Murray examined the human rights arguments, Mathias Holvoet and Adejoké Babington-Ashaye commented on the crimes against humanity arguments, and Sareta Ashraph and Melanie O’Brien examined the genocide arguments. The book symposium ended with a (partial) reply by Tilman Rodenhäuser. At a time when we as academics need to find ways of reducing the carbon footprint of our discussions, I think the symposium provided a powerful example of how it is possible to have meaningful conversations on academic work without stepping on a plane.

In October, Professor Shane Darcy presented his research on how armed groups take action against internal threats, setting up courts and carrying out summary executions. His detailed analysis of this topic is found in his new book To Serve the Enemy: Informers, Collaborators and the Laws of Armed Conflict (OUP, 2019). In November, Alessandra Spadaro returned to the situation of the detainees held by the SDF in a two part post that took into account the rapidly deteriorating situation after the Turkish invasion of North East Syria and US withdrawal. In the first post, she addressed the responsibility of the Turkish forces towards the ISIS detainees – exploring the difficult and little-discussed question of whether these detainees should be governed by IAC or NIAC rules. In her second post, she analysed the responsibility of third States towards the detainees.

In November 2019, Hyeran Jo shared her new research on ‘international law talk’ by non-State armed groups. Adopting a 5W and 1H analysis (who, what, where, when, why and how) she provided fascinating insights into the circumstances in which armed groups use international law in their messaging. The year ended with a podcast discussion between Luke Moffett and myself on armed groups and international law that was made during my trip to Queen’s University Belfast.

It is great to see how much people have used the blog in 2019 to disseminate their research and have conversations about these important issues. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the authors who have written on the blog and encourage scholars writing on topics related to armed groups and international law to consider submitting to the blog to share research, publications and ideas.

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