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2015 | International legal obligations of armed opposition groups in Syria, by T. Rodenhauser

The article examines the stages of the crisis that international human rights obligations and international humanitarian law obligations of non-state armed groups became pertinent, it further provides reasons why this is the case. The article argues that, even before the Syria crisis turned into a non-international armed conflict, opposition groups were bound by fundamental rules of international human rights law. In addition to these rules, all parties to the armed conflict became bound by international humanitarian law once the situation reached a sufficient degree of violence, and the non-state groups a sufficient degree of organization. By examining the Syria crisis, the article shows what these abstract criteria mean in practice.

The article focuses on two salient questions viz. can non-state armed groups (groups such as Syrian opposition groups) violate international human rights law, and if yes, under what circumstance? And the commission of war crimes by any conflicting party requires the existence of an armed conflict, in the Syria case, a non-international armed conflict. But at what stage did armed violence in Syria amount to a non-international armed conflict?

Traditionally, human rights are considered to only apply to the vertical relation between the state and its subjects as such, non-state groups have no international human rights obligations. However, the traditional state-centric view has broadened to include non-state armed groups that are party to an armed conflict and exercise control over territory. The crisis in Syria is considered a non-international armed conflict and that armed opposition groups controlled parts of Syrian territory, as such, these groups must “respect the fundamental human rights of persons forming customary international law.

The article further notes that, all parties to an armed conflict have obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL)