Protecting civilians in armed conflict


01. What is an armed non-State actor ?

The term armed-non State actor (ANSA) may encompass a variety of entities. In the context of its mission, Geneva Call focuses on organized armed entities involved in internal armed conflicts that are primarily motivated by political goals, operate outside State control and therefore lack legal capacity to become party to relevant international treaties. These include armed groups, de facto governing authorities and non- or partially internationally recognized States.

02. What is a Deed of Commitment ?

The Deed of Commitment is an innovative mechanism that allows ANSAs to pledge to respect humanitarian norms and be held publically accountable for their commitments. ANSAs cannot become parties to relevant international treaties, and are generally precluded from participating in norm-making processes. Consequently, ANSAs may not feel bound to abide by rules that they have neither put forward nor formally adhered to. Sometimes they are simply not aware of their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The Deed of Commitment process gives ANSAs the opportunity to formally express their agreement to abide by humanitarian norms and take ownership of these rules. To date Geneva Call promotes three Deeds of Commitmentand each of them mirrors international standards.

The Deeds of Commitment are signed by the ANSA leadership and countersigned by Geneva Call and the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, usually at a ceremony in the Alabama Room in Geneva’s City Hall, where the first Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864. The signed documents are deposited with the Canton of Geneva, which serves as custodian.

03. How does Geneva Call establish contact with armed non-State actors?

Initiating dialogue with ANSAs is done through personal contacts or through third parties, such as conflict experts, members of the diaspora, international or local NGOs. Sometimes contacts are established with the support of other ANSAs active in the same region. A growing number of requests for opening dialogue comes directly from ANSAs themselves.

04. What motivates armed non-State actors to sign a Deed of Commitment?

ANSAs that have signed one or several Geneva Call’s Deeds of Commitment have done so for a variety of reasons, such as to protect members of their constituency, be they civilians or soldiers; to demonstrate their capacity to uphold principles of humanitarian law; to translate their existing code of conduct into a public, official and recognized commitment; to improve the stability and quality of life for people living in the areas under their authority or de factocontrol; to facilitate future peace processes and to improve their reputation. Geneva Call provides a mechanism through which armed groups make a voluntary decision to comply with humanitarian norms. This enables groups to take ownership of the rules which, in turn, helps to improve compliance

05. What does Geneva Call do when ANSAs don’t want to sign a Deed of Commitment?

When ANSAs are not immediately prepared to commit to abide by humanitarian norms, Geneva Call pursues a pragmatic, step-by-step approach and seeks incremental improvements in their policies and behaviours towards improved protection for civilians.In certain circumstances, Geneva Call uses other tools to work with ANSAs, such as unilateral declarations, codes of conduct or special agreements, especially those based on Geneva Call’s digest of humanitarian norms, as expressed in a set of 15 rules of behaviour for ANSA fighters.

06. How do ANSAs implement their commitments?

Once a decision to sign the Deed of Commitment is made, concrete implementation measures are agreed upon by the ANSA and Geneva Call. These include policy revision, dissemination, monitoring, sanctions and protective measures. Often, external assistance is needed.

Geneva Call provides implementation support in a number of ways, such as providing advice on policy revision, organizing training workshops, and/or developing educational materials to help signatories disseminate their new policies to their rank and file. In some cases, Geneva Call brings in partner organizations to support ANSAs in the implementation of their commitments (for example, to destroy their stockpile of anti-personnel mines).

07. How does Geneva Call monitor compliance with the Deed of Commitment ?

The signing of the Deed of Commitment does not in itself guarantee better respect of humanitarian norms but provides a useful tool to hold signatories accountable for their undertaking. Under the Deed of Commitment , signatory ANSAs agree to allow and cooperate in the monitoring of their compliance by Geneva Call. Monitoring takes place at three levels.

First, each signatory ANSA is required to establish self-monitoring mechanisms and report to Geneva Call on the measures put in place to implement the Deed of Commitment . Second, Geneva Call independently monitors compliance by gathering information from a range of third-party actors present on the ground (such as media, international and local organisations). The third level takes place through field missions. Such missions are undertaken by Geneva Call on a routine basis to follow up on implementation of the Deeds of Commitment or to verify compliance in the event of allegations of violations.

08. What happens if armed non-State actors don’t respect a Deed of Commitment?

In cases of alleged non-compliance, and after deep analysis and wide collect of information, Geneva Call may choose to conduct on-site verification missions, as it did in Central Mindanao in the Philippines in 2009.  In case of confirmed non-compliance, the ANSA leaders have the obligation to investigate internally and to sanction people who did not respect the Deed of Commitment in order to avoid any further violations.

If the non-respect is occasional and the responsibility of a few individuals, Geneva Call will support the ANSA to better disseminate the norms to all its combatants and to enforce sanction mechanisms. If it is a deliberate will of ANSA leaders to break the obligations of theDeed of Commitment, Geneva Call reserves the right to publicize it.

Overall, ANSAs largely respect their commitments.

09. Does Geneva Call legitimize armed non-State actors ?

The simple answer is : No.  Compliance with humanitarian norms is not a political statement – it is a humanitarian priority

The application of international humanitarian law states that ‘all parties to the conflict’ should abide by its norms. Geneva Call offers ANSAs the possibility to do it in a more formal way.

Geneva Call subscribes to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and therefore does not express any political opinion related to the situation of an armed conflict nor does it endorse political stances coming from any party to the conflict.

In addition, common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions encourages all parties to a non-international armed conflict to commit to international humanitarian law through the conclusion of special agreements such as Geneva Call’s Deeds of Commitment.

This important provision further reminds that the conclusion of such agreements does not modify the status of the parties to the conflict and therefore does not legally legitimize ANSAs

10. What is the attitude of governments on whose territory armed non-State actors are operating?

Geneva Call is transparent and informs governments of countries where ANSAs are operating and where it intends to work. It explains its purpose and its structure, and the type of activity that will be pursued. Sometimes governments are favorable, at times reluctant and very few refuse access. In such situations Geneva Call may conduct its negotiations and training with ANSAs outside of the concerned country. Geneva Call always preserves the confidentiality of its relationships with ANSAs.

11. How does Geneva Call remain neutral in the context of conflict?

Geneva Call is an independent humanitarian NGO and adheres to the humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality. The organization and its staff focus on the protection of civilians through the application – by ANSAs in the case of Geneva Call’s specific mission – of international norms. Geneva Call’s collaborators will not take sides in, nor comment on the political or historical aspects of a conflict.

12. How is Geneva Call funded?

Geneva Call is predominantly funded by institutional donors (States and their governments), UN agencies and the European Commission; a current list of Geneva Call donors is available here. Geneva Call also receives donations from companies and individuals. Donation can be made on this page.

13. Why does Geneva Call focus on four thematic areas?

While initially focusing on the ban on AP mines, Geneva Call has expanded its work into additional areas that deserve specific attention, namely the protection of children in armed conflict – notably from recruitment and use in hostilities – as well as the prohibition of sexual violence and against gender discrimination.

This expansion is envisioned in Geneva Call’s founding statutes and has been encouraged by ANSAs themselves. Geneva Call has also increasingly provided International Humanitarian Law (IHL) training to ANSAs, and advice on how to incorporate IHL rules into their codes of conduct and other internal regulations.

Further thematic areas are currently being explored and may be implemented in the future.