Rebel Groups and International Law Grant uri icon


  • The Sudan People''s Liberation Movement/Army in Sudan has stopped using child soldiers while the Lord''s Resistance Army in Uganda continued the practice. Why do some rebel groups in civil wars follow the laws of war while others do not? This question is puzzling because rebel groups are not usually creators of international law. Also, in many cases, their rights and obligations under international law are not clear. Given this legal and political environment and with often-dominating military-strategic imperatives, under what conditions would rebel groups follow the laws of war?To solve the puzzle, this project proposes to study why rebel groups in civil conflicts abide by international law. Grounded on the theories of compliance and political legitimacy, the researcher hypothesizes that rebel groups abide by laws of war when they have political aims to be recognized as a viable political entity. To test the hypothesis, the researcher will statistically analyze the behaviors of armed opposition groups in civil wars between 1991 and 2010 to examine three compliance behaviors of rebel groups: (1) the use of child soldiers, (2) the killing of civilians, and (3) the treatment of detainees.The project is important for two reasons. From a scholarly point of view, the project solves a theoretical puzzle as to why rebel groups would follow international rules that they did not initially create. The question has not been fully answered in the existing literature because scholars of international relations have thus far focused on the behavior of nation-states. From a practical point of view, the project has broad impacts for human security. As some seventeen million people have died in civil conflicts over the past half-century, the answer to the proposed research question will advance our understanding about when and how to engage rebel groups and encourage them to comply with international law.

date/time interval

  • 2013 - 2017