The combatant status of non-State actors in international armed conflicts, in light of the notion of direct participation in hostilities : an analysis of relief workers, journalists, voluntary human shields, private-military and security contractors, and under-aged child soldiers recruited into non-State organized armed groups.
The increased outsourcing of many traditionally military functions, together with the fact that international armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in predominantly civilian locations, is contesting the international humanitarian law (IHL) presumption that civilians are necessarily non-participatory spectators in the theatre of war. The legal lacunae which surrounds non-State actors like: private military and security contractors (PMSCs), under-aged child soldiers, voluntary human shields (VHSs), relief workers and journalists, is complicating the legal assessment of their primary IHL status, obscuring crucial determinations around whether their actions amount to direct participation in hostilities, and confounding certainty around the legal regime applicable to them upon capture. Through critical analysis of customary and treaty based IHL, this project explores the primary IHL status of each of these types of non-State actors. Thereafter it seeks, through practical application of the ICRC’s Interpretive Guide on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities, to draw specific conclusions on the range of activities that might compromise their civilian immunity against direct targeting. In the final analysis the study concludes that engaging in combat functions, operating weapons systems, participating in direct support functions, conducting training for predetermined hostile acts, sabotaging military capacity, guarding captured military personnel, gathering intelligence for use in marking targets, divulging tactical information or acting as a lookout will amount to direct participation in hostilities. Through similar investigation, the study concludes that mere interference, defensive guarding or shielding of civilian or other dual-use sites, and the defense of military installations against criminal elements, fails to rise to the threshold required to compromise a civilian non-State actor’s immunity against attack. While dispelling the misconception that civilian status itself can be legally forfeited, the project explores the practical legal consequences of civilian direct participation in hostilities: including legitimate direct targeting of these non- State actors for so long as their participation or membership of the combative group persist, and their criminal prosecution upon capture.
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