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Targeting Individuals Belonging to an Armed Group

Updated: May 12, 2020

Author: Dr. Gloria Gaggioli


In the context of non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), individuals belonging to an organized armed group are generally considered targetable based on their membership in such a group. There would be no need to prove that they are directly participating in hostilities in order to consider their targeting compliant with international humanitarian law (IHL). Targeting based on membership thus requires answering two key questions. First, what is an organized armed group for the purpose of IHL?; and, second, how should one determine membership in such a group? These two crucial questions raise a number of legal and practical challenges, especially with respect to the contemporary “war on terror” that is being waged by a number of states against alleged transnational armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as well as against so- called associated forces. In the light of these challenges, there is a need for further research that is not only legal but also empirical in order to properly clarify the crucial notions of “organized armed groups” and “membership” in such groups under IHL


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