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There are currently some 100 armed conflicts around the world, most of which are non-international in nature, involving one or more non-State armed groups (NSAG). In the course of such conflicts, armed groups frequently gain control over territory and the populations living therein. At times NSAG control is short-lived; at other times it may be prolonged. A common feature is that persons living under the control of armed groups are not able to rely on the State as the entity responsible for protecting the totality of their rights and dignity – they become de facto subject to the power of a NSAG. The more protracted the situation becomes, the more varied and acute the needs of the civilian population may be.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons affected by threats arising from armed conflict and the global health crisis face serious risks. To protect their lives and dignity, the need to provide medical care for the sick and to ensure that a population’s basic needs are otherwise met have become especially important. In addition, certain preventive measures are frequently taken to curb the spread of the pandemic, such as lockdown or quarantine rules. While COVID-19 related measures implemented by States dominate the news, non-State armed groups have also taken a range of steps to curb the pandemic and address associated needs. However, the international legal framework under which armed groups take such measures is less developed than that in which States operate, which risks leaving populations in a troubling situation.
Pursuant to its mission to protect the lives and dignity of persons affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, in 2019 the ICRC interacted with over 400 armed groups throughout the world. The organization endeavors to ensure that populations under the control of NSAGs are treated with respect for the fundamental guarantees of IHL, and other bodies of law as applicable, and that their safety and dignity are protected. In its latest Report on International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflict, the ICRC set out its reflections on the legal regime protection persons living under the control of non-State armed groups.
In this blog symposium, several experts discuss the ICRC’s position or use it as a starting point to explore related subjects.