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Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Armed Groups in Other Situations of Violence: The Syria Example

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In February 2012, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic found that opposition groups fighting against the Assad regime are bound by human rights obligations constituting peremptory norms of international law. This finding is innovative for two reasons. First, human rights obligations apply generally to the vertical relation between States and their subjects. Second, whereas is seems accepted that non-state armed groups can have human rights obligations when they control territory, the Commission of Inquiry was unable to confirm that Syrian opposition forces exercised such control over territory. This article examines whether the finding that non-state armed groups are bound by peremptory human rights norms is supported by contemporary international law. Moreover, recent trends in the practice of the United Nations with regard to human rights obligations of non-state actors will be analysed. Even though this article argues that non-state armed groups can have human rights obligations in other situations of violence, it points out particular challenges to their practical application.

Affiliations: 1: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva,


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