Human Rights and Military Decisions: Counterinsurgency and Trends in the Law of International Armed Conflict

17 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009

See all articles by Dan E. Stigall

Dan E. Stigall

U.S. Department of Justice

Christopher L. Blakesley

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Chris Jenks

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: July 13, 2009


The past several decades have seen a Copernican shift in the paradigm of armed conflict, which the traditional Law of International Armed Conflict (LOIAC) canon has not fully matched. Standing out in stark relief against the backdrop of relative inactivity in LOIAC, is the surfeit of activity in the field of international human rights law, which has become a dramatic new force in the ancient realm of international law. Human rights law, heretofore not formally part of the traditional juridico-military calculus, has gained ever increasing salience in that calculus. Indeed, human rights law has ramified in such a manner that – given the nature of contemporary conflict, it is no longer possible to address one body of law without also dealing with the other. This has been the most dramatic trend for LOIAC in the last decade. It will doubtlessly continue.

This article briefly addresses this interesting and important phenomenon in the context of the history of LOIAC and modern warfare, which has changed from large-scale clashes of the military might of sovereign states to conflict characterized by long-term guerilla and asymmetric warfare, concomitant counterinsurgency, and stability operations. The nature of contemporary stability operations and counterinsurgency has broadened the scope of military operations so that commanders must now engage in a range of activities not traditionally considered combat-related. Associated with this expanded range of military responsibility is an expanded range of legal responsibility. Hence, we arrive at the necessity and value of human rights law. We briefly identify the general implications of the legal trend and illuminate some notable aspects of the legal landscape that loom before military commanders and their advisors.

The issue of where, when, and how human rights protections apply is essential to understanding their functionality. The treatment of detainees is a prime example of the expanded range of legal responsibility that implicates human rights law. Thus, our discussion of jurisdiction includes analysis of variations among some countries and various regional and international organizations, which differ in their positions on the proper extraterritorial application or jurisdictional scope of their own and international human rights norms. This includes analysis of recent interesting decisions from the British House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. Finally, we discuss the Copenhagen Process, which began with the first Copenhagen Conference held in October 2007. The Copenhagen Process is an effort to establish a common platform for the handling of detainees which illustrates how intertwined strands of international human rights law and LOIAC have become. It may also represent a way, if not to cut the Gordian knot, then to move past it with a better recognition of how both legal strands will influence future military operations.

Keywords: International Law, Comparative Law, Human Rights, Military Law, International Law of Armed Conflict, International Humanitarian Law, Criminal Law, Jurisdiction, Criminal Procedure, Criminology

JEL Classification: Z00, K14, K19, K33, K40, K,42, K49

Suggested Citation

Stigall, Dan E. and Blakesley, Christopher L. and Jenks, Chris, Human Rights and Military Decisions: Counterinsurgency and Trends in the Law of International Armed Conflict (July 13, 2009). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 30, p. 1367, 2008-09, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-13, Available at SSRN:

Dan E. Stigall

U.S. Department of Justice ( email )

United States

Christopher L. Blakesley (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

Chris Jenks

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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