© Boris Heger, ICRC

ARMED NON-STATE ACTORS

The research project focuses on the practice and interpretation of humanitarian norms of selected armed non-state actors, according to their types, ideology and geographical location. The following ANSAs will be studied for the project: APCLS and NDC-R (Democratic Republic of the Congo); MNLA (Mali); Somaliland (Somalia); the Taliban (Afghanistan); MILF/BIAF and NDFP/NPA (the Philippines); KNU/KNLA and RCSS/SSA-S (Myanmar); YPG/YPJ/SDF/AANES (Syria); IS and Al Qaeda (Syria) and FARC-EP (Colombia). This page contains information about the two first case studies that have been completed.

Mouvement National de libération de l’Azawad (MNLA)  – Mali 

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad, MNLA) is a secular independentist movement formed in 2011 as a result of the merger of previous Tuareg rebellions and fighters returning from Libya after the collapse of the Gadhafi regime. Although it is largely composed of ethnic Tuaregs, the MNLA has presented itself as a movement fighting for the right to self-determination of all the peoples of “Azawad”, a territory considered its homeland in northern Mali. The MNLA launched its first armed attacks against Malian government forces in January 2012 and in a few months gained control of large areas, including the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, before being evicted by radical Islamist groups. At the beginning of 2013, after the military intervention of France, the MNLA demanded autonomy during talks with the government and signed the 2015 Peace Agreement under the banner of the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA). The Peace Agreement did not put an end to the conflict however, as the CMA still controls territory in the northern part of the country and has engaged in hostilities with both pro-government ANSAs and Islamist groups after 2015.

Case Study
Case Study MNLA
Open PDF
Résumé Etude de Cas MNLA (FR)
Open PDF

FARC – Colombia 

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) was an ‘armed opposition group’ mainly active between 1964–2017 –although some sources date its ‘official’ origin to 1966– a period in which it managed to constitute itself as a military and political organization throughout the entire Colombian territory. The FARC-EP followed a Marxist-Leninist ideology, also displaying a special adaptation to the rural areas of Colombia, which some observers have denominated as a mix of agrarianism, Marxism and ‘Bolivarism’. While active, the FARC-EP modified its organizational structure through three stages. First it was constituted as a peasant self-defence movement; then it became a ‘mobile guerrilla formation’; and finally, the FARC-EP developed itself as an army. Throughout its existence, the FARC-EP was a party to various NIACs, including against the government of Colombia and paramilitary groups. Its existence as an ANSA ended after the conclusion of the 2016 Peace Agreement, when it was clear that the hostilities had ceased and there was no real risk of their resumption.

Case Study
Case Study FARC-EP
Open PDF

Taliban – Afghanistan

The Taliban, also known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), was an ‘armed opposition group.’ It was active on and off between 1994-1996, after which they became the de facto government of Afghanistan until their ouster in 2001, and from 2001 through August 2021, after which they again became the de facto government of Afghanistan. The group had two stated objectives: to eject foreign forces from the country and establish what they deemed a truly Islamic government. The Taliban were a deeply conservative Islamist movement, with an ideology rooted in their specific version of Sunni Hanafi and Afghan cultural norms. But as an insurgency after 2001, the movement had to reconcile their traditionalist ideology with both the demands of securing the population and exposure to a much broader field of ideas and influences.

Case Study
Case Study Taliban
Open PDF

Hezbollah – Lebanon

Hezbollah—Arabic for “Party of God”— is a Shiite armed movement born as a response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Also called the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon (IRL), the movement has been influenced by the Islamic revolution in Iran and has grown from a guerrilla military force fighting the occupation, to a well-established political party with a strong military wing and a wide range of social, medical and educational institutions services which has earning it the title of “State within a State”. Although politically active since 1985, Hezbollah secured its first representation in parliament coming out of the 1992 parliamentary elections and became effectively involved in Lebanese politics through its participation in government starting 2005. Moreover, ever since its involvement in the Syrian conflict in 2013, Hezbollah’s regional influence has not seized to grow as it became one of the key players within the Iranian backed “Axis of Resistance”

Case Study
Case Study Hezbollah
Open PDF

MILF – Philippines

The organisation that would go on to become the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formed from a split in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1977. Its initial objective was the independence of territory inhabited by several Islamized ethno-linguistic groups, collectively known as the Moro people, in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. In contrast to the ethno-nationalist MNLF, the MILF emphasised the centrality of Islam in its struggle.  The MILF began to gain strong support and its military wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF)  was successful in taking control of large swathes of territory, most notably in Maguindanao and Lanao Del Sur.  The MILF engaged in peace talks, and entered into intermittent ceasefires with the Government from the 1990s. In 2014 the two parties signed a peace agreement called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which in 2019 created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) under the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority, meaningfully bringing to an end the MILF’s conflict. 

Case Study
Case Study MILF
Open PDF

Islamic State Group

The Islamic State is a Salafi-jihadist non-state actor that has undergone several mutations since its emergence.  The group emerged after the US invasion of Iraq and expanded in the context of the region’s civil wars and popular uprisings (after the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011) and in Syria (2012 onwards).  In June 2014, the group captured Mosul, Iraq’s third most populated city and by the end of June, it announced the establishment of the caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its first self-declared caliph. The group gradually controlled territory in Iraq and in Syria and at its height, ISg controlled more than 280,000 kilometres in Iraq and Syria. Through a sustained conter-terrorism strategy, ISg gradually lost control of land it controlled and in March 2019, after the fall of the city of Baghuz, located on the Syrian-Iraqi border, ISg was declared defeated and later in the year, al-Baghdadi was killed. Currently, the group continues to function as a clandestine salaf-jihadist organization with no territorial control. 

Case Study
Case Study The Islamic Sate Group
Open PDF

Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda is a salafi-jihadist organization that originated as a political movement that uses militant insurgency as a means of struggle against, what it sees as, illegitimate authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world and a ‘colonial’ anti-Muslim international system. Al-Qaeda was headed by Osama Bin Laden and later his recently deceased deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Qaeda’s trajectory can be seen in four distinct phases: first, the formative period bearing the group’s origins during the Afghan War and throughout the 1980s; second, the 1990s, witnessing the United States’ intervention in the Gulf War and in Somalia as well as the increase in its military bases in the Arabian Peninsula, leading to al-Qaeda’s declarations of war against the US and Israel, which culminated in the 9/11 attacks; third, the post-2001 period which saw a set of key transformations: al-Qaeda going underground in the face of an international counterterrorism campaign (the Afghanistan War in 2001 followed by Iraq war in 2003), and its decision to franchise its jihadist agenda, with al-Qaeda affiliates emerging all over the world (from Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula to the Maghrib and Europe). Currently, al-Qaeda as a central organization’s ability to conduct operations waned and activities are mostly conducted by those varyingly and loosely connected affiliates.

Case Study
Case Study Al Qaeda
Open PDF