International humanitarian law (the laws of war) imposes upon parties to an armed conflict legal obligations to reduce unnecessary suffering and to protect civilians and other non-combatants. It is applicable to all situations of armed conflict, without regard to whether the conflict itself is legal or illegal under international or domestic law, and whether those fighting are regular armies or non-state armed groups. All armed groups involved in a conflict must abide by international humanitarian law, and any individuals who violate humanitarian law with criminal intent can be prosecuted in domestic or international courts for war crimes.128
International humanitarian law does not regulate whether states and armed groups can engage in hostilities, but rather how states and armed groups engage in hostilities. Insurgency itself is not a violation of international humanitarian law. The laws of war do not prohibit the existence of insurgent groups or their attacks on legitimate military targets. Rather, they restrict the means and method of warfare and impose upon insurgent forces and regular armies alike a duty to protect civilians and other non-combatants and minimize harm to civilians during military operations.129
128 See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005),rule 158.
129 While insurgency is not a violation of international law, acts by armed groups are frequently in violation of domestic law. The criminal law of Somalia is applicable with respect to many insurgent activities described in this report. Somali law, like the laws of most nations, proscribes basic domestic crimes including murder, assault, arson, rebellion, and crimes relating to attacks on government forces or installations. See Book 2, Chapter I of the Somali Penal Code, 1967. On May 3, 2007, the Somali parliament approved a new Anti-Terrorism Law. Human Rights Watch is still seeking confirmation of the final text as this report goes to press but a number of provisions in the available text are of concern because they are extremely vague and open to wide interpretation. Unofficial translation of Anti-Terrorism Law on file with Human Rights Watch.