Nicolas Florquin, Pascal Bongard, Emilia Richard

Options for Engagement: Armed Groups and Humanitarian Norms

Small Arms Survey


The United Nations Secretary-General's May 2009 report on the protection of civilians provides strong support for dialogue with armed groups aimed at achieving humanitarian objectives. It acknowledges the experiences of a growing number of actors that have been engaging armed groups on issues of international concern, including general respect for international humanitarian law (IHL), the anti-personnel mine ban, and the protection of children in armed conflict. In comparison, dialogue with armed groups on the specific issue of small arms is mostly confined to peace talks and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs. Such focus on the post-conflict phase misses a big part of the picture: armed groups are key actors in most contemporary armed conflicts, many of which are of a protracted nature. As such, the way they regulate—or fail to regulate—the use and management of small arms by their fighters can diminish or exacerbate violence against civilians. Regulation can also affect the incidence of casualties caused by accidental small arms use and condition the likelihood of ammunition depot explosions. In other words, dialogue with armed groups on the small arms issue during the conflict phase can help save civilian lives.