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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  • 1 University of Copenhagen

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.

  • 15

     See further Portmann, supra note 5, at 42.

  • 25

    Cavaglieri, supra note 22, at 177, and Schwarzenberger, supra note 23, at 34.

  • 26

     See Cavaglieri, supra 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.

  • 27

     See, for example, Portmann, supra 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.

  • 31

    Bernstorff, supra note 29, at 249.

  • 34

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

  • 37

     See further Bernstorff, supra 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.

  • 39

    Kelsen, supra note 32, at 342.

  • 42

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

  • 43

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

  • 44

    Kelsen, supra 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.

  • 45

    Kelsen, supra note 33, at 329.

  • 46

    Kelsen, supra note 34, at 152.

  • 47

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

  • 51

    Nijman and Nollkaemper, supra note 48, at 341.

  • 61

     See Lauterpacht, supra 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.

  • 62

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

  • 65

    Neff, supra note 54, at 251.

  • 76

    Castrén, supra note 55, at 87.

  • 84

     See also Cassese, supra 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.

  • 88

    Moir, supra note 54, at 56–58.

  • 90

    Dinstein, supra note 74, at 64.

  • 102

     See also Sivakumaran, supra note 3, at 380.

  • 106

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

  • 108

     See, for example, Cassese, supra 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.

  • 120

    Kelsen, supra note 44, at 127.

  • 121

    Lauterpacht, supra note 113, at 512.

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