Contemporary armed conflicts are characterised by an increase of violence against civilians and a lack of compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) by both states and armed non-state actors (ANSAs). The international community has acknowledged the importance of engaging ANSAs on compliance with international norms to any effort to improve the protection of civilians in armed conflict, despite the fact that it is, in some contexts, actively discouraged or even prohibited by states. This chapter aims at identifying the key elements as well as the challenges underlying the humanitarian engagement of armed non-state actors. It will argue that meaningful engagement, that is engagement that also takes on board the views, perceptions and conceptions of international norms by ANSAs calls for a much more sustained effort from the part of the international community. These efforts include the need of more systematic research on the facts and scale in which ANSAs allegedly violate IHL, more inquiry in their actual practice and their impact on the development of international norms, a clarification on the applicable legal framework as well as a more thorough reflection on means to establish a coherent and just system of accountability in case of violations.
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