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New report on the conduct of hostilities by armed non-State actors

Geneva Call is pleased to release the report of the third edition of the Garance Talks, which focused this year on the application of the core rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) governing the conduct of hostilities: distinction, proportionality and precaution. Armed non-State actors (ANSAs) engage in hostilities against persons and objects on a regular basis. In this context, it is widely accepted that IHL, as the legal framework applicable in armed conflicts, addresses how these hostilities must be conducted.

The 2020 edition of the Garance Talks, which took place on 18 February, included presentations by four ANSAs from various regions of the world, together with experts from academia and international humanitarian organizations. The report includes a legal analysis on the topic, some examples of selected ANSAs’ practice and views on the conduct of hostilities in armed conflict.

Two main challenges were identified from the discussions. Firstly, from a “capacity” perspective, it remains unclear whether ANSAs have the capacity to implement rules that were primarily designed for the armed forces of States, which usually – although not always – have a more sophisticated level of organization than ANSAs. There is an assumption, however, that parties to the conflict: (i) will be able to use a certain type of uniform to differentiate their fighters from those not participating in the hostilities; (ii) will have the knowledge on how to undertake a proportionality assessment; and (iii) will be able to apply precautionary measures, both in the planning and execution of an attack and those against the effects of attacks, as envisaged in IHL. Second, despite the existence of these practical difficulties, the discussions demonstrate a general agreement among ANSAs on the importance of these rules. Yet certain definitions, such as those of “civilian” and “direct participation in hostilities”, varied according to each context, showing the existence of interpretative differences between the ANSAs themselves.

Download and read the report on the 2020 Garance Talks here.



The goal of the Garance Talks is to bring together experts and ANSAs to address these challenges, thus allowing to bring these entities’ perspectives to the legal discussions with the goal of complementing on-going international processes which do not or cannot involve them.

The 2020 edition was organized in the context of a research project undertaken by Geneva Call, together with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, which aims at understanding ANSAs’ practice and interpretation of humanitarian norms.

Previous editions of the Garance Talks addressed the issues of ANSAs’ positive obligations and administration of justice and detention.



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