A Ghost in the Ivory Tower: Positivism and International Legal Regulation of Armed Opposition Groups

in Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies
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Why do scholars, who generally acknowledge the international legal personality of non-State entities, still question the bindingness of the law of non-international armed conflict on insurgents? This article examines the relationship between the two dominant positivist conceptions of international legal personality and the rights and obligations of insurgents as a matter of positive international law. First, the article illustrates that the evolution of the law of non-international armed conflict corroborates Hans Kelsen’s idea that the international legal personality of an entity, be it a State, an armed opposition group, or an individual, is solely contingent upon interpretation of international norms. Second, it shows that the traditional perception of States as exclusive subjects of international law – though never reflected in positive norms governing non-international armed conflict – continues to influence the current debate on the theoretical underpinnings for binding insurgents. The orthodox ‘States-only’ conception of international legal personality is seemingly so ingrained in the minds of contemporary international lawyers that they inadvertently rely on it when faced with international legal regulation of non-State entities. Finally, the article addresses the implications of these findings for the overall question of international legal obligations of non-State actors.

A Ghost in the Ivory Tower: Positivism and International Legal Regulation of Armed Opposition Groups

in Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies




 See further Portmannsupra note 5 at 42.


Cavaglierisupra note 22 at 177 and Schwarzenberger supra note 23 at 34.


 See Cavaglierisupra note 22 at 182–183 Strupp supra note 23 at 466 and R. Jennings and A. Watts Oppenheim’s International Law (9th edn. 1992) at 847.


 See for example Portmannsupra note 5 at 80; R. McCorquodale ‘An Inclusive International Legal System’ 17 ljil 477 (2004) at 480; and K. Nowrot ‘Reconceptualising International Legal Personality of Influential Non-State Actors: Towards a Rebuttable Presumption of Normative Responsibilities’ 80 Philippine Law Journal 563 (2005–2006) at 565–566.


Bernstorffsupra note 29 at 249.


Kelsensupra note 33 at 228 et seq. See also H. Kelsen Das problem der souveränität une die theorie des völkerrechts (1920) at 10–12.


 See further Bernstorffsupra note 29 at 50. See also H. Lauterpacht ‘Kelsen’s Pure Science of Law’ in E. Lauterpacht (ed.) International Law: Being the Collected Papers of Hersch Lauterpacht Vol. ii 404 (1975) at 414–419.


Kelsensupra note 32 at 342.


 See further Kelsensupra note 32 at 248–252. See also Portmann supra note 5 at 196.


Kelsensupra note 38 at 268 et seq. See also Bernstorff supra note 29 at 147.


Kelsensupra note 34 at 123; H. Kelsen in R.W. Tucker (ed.) Principles of International Law 569 (2nd edn. 1966). See also Hart’s critique of Kelsen’s postulate in H.L.A. Hart ‘Kelsen’s Doctrine of the Unity of Law’ in S. L. Paulson and B. Litschewski Paulson (eds.) Normativity and Norms – Critical Perspectives on Kelsian Themes 553 (1998) at 564 et seq.


Kelsensupra note 33 at 329.


Kelsensupra note 34 at 152.


Kelsensupra note 33 at 328–330. See further Bernstorff supra note 29 at 81.


Nijman and Nollkaempersupra note 48 at 341.


 See Lauterpachtsupra note 56 at 277. Similarly R.A. Falk defined ‘insurgency’ as ‘[…] a catch-all designation provided by international law to allow States to determine the quantum of legal relations to be established with the insurgents’. See R.A. Falk ‘Janus Tormented: The International Law of Internal War’ in J.N. Rosenau (ed.) International Aspects of Civil Strife 185 (1964) at 199. See also Moir supra note 54 at 5 and Cullen supra note 58 at 11.


Falksupra note 61 at 203. See also E. Castrén ‘Recognition of Insurgency’ 4 Indian Journal of International Law 443 (1965) at 453.


Neffsupra note 54 at 251.


Castrénsupra note 55 at 87.


 See also Cassesesupra note 75 424–428; M. Milanović ‘Is the Rome Statute Binding on Individuals? (And Why We Should Care)’ 9 jicj. 25 (2011) at 40 and Parlett supra note 56 at 216.


Moirsupra note 54 at 56–58.


Dinsteinsupra note 74 at 64.


 See also Sivakumaransupra note 3 at 380.


Sandoz et al.supra note 86 at 1345 para. 4444 (footnotes omitted).


 See for example Cassesesupra note 75 at 429 and Moir supra note 54 at 53–55. See also A. Clapham ‘Accountability/Liability for Violations of the Law: Focusing on Non-State Actors’ in A. Clapham et al. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict 766 (2014) at 772. This is the presumably the ‘confusion’ Sivakumaran refers to in his explanation for abandoning the term of ‘legislative jurisdiction’ in S. Sivakumaran The Law of Non-International Armed Conflict (2012) at 241 n. 43. See further Kleffner supra note 3 at 447–448.


Kelsensupra note 44 at 127.


Lauterpachtsupra note 113 at 512.


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