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What You Fight for Shapes How You Fight

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2022

Tanisha M. Fazal*
University of Minnesota.


The question of where to begin when considering the conditions under which states and non-state actors comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) is itself an interesting one because of the history of IHL. IHL was created by states, principally to govern their behavior in relation to each other. The major codified elements of IHL, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, are agreements signed by states. For the last several decades, however, most wars have occurred within, rather than between, states. This trend raises the question of whether and when armed non-state actors (ANSAs, typically called “rebel groups” by political scientists) might comply with IHL.

There and Back Again: How to Ensure Compliance with IHL by Relying on Non-traditional Voices and Live to Tell the Tale
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The American Society of International Law.

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1 For a fuller explication of this argument, please see Tanisha M. Fazal, Rebellion, War Aims, and the Laws of War, Daedalus (Winter 2017).

2 Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (2006).

3 Note: this belief is quite likely mistaken. Secessionists like the SPLM/A frequently violated IHL and yet South Sudan was admitted to the UN in 2011. By contrast, the Republik Maluku Selatan in the South Moluccas appealed to the UN in ways that contrasted their compliance with IHL with violations by the Indonesian military; these appeals were unsuccessful. See also Tanisha M. Fazal, Go Your Own Way: Why Rising Separatism Might Lead to More Conflict, 97 For. Aff. (2018).

4 Monica Duffy Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (2003).

5 Tanisha M. Fazal, Wars of Law: Unintended Consequences in the Regulation of Armed Conflict (2018).

6 Tanisha M. Fazal, Religionist Rebels and the Sovereignty of the Divine, 47 Daedalus (2018).

7 Alexander B. Downes, Targeting Civilians in War (2008).