By analysing relevant practice and statements of four de facto independent regimes – the Republic of Abkhazia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, and the Republic of Somaliland – this article first establishes that these regimes are able to comply with overarching human rights obligations as a matter of fact. Overarching human rights obligations are obligations that do not arise from one specific human right protected in regional or global human rights law, but general obligations that enable duty-bearers to implement all other specific human rights obligations, among them obligations related to (democratic) institution building and to reiterative domestic law-making processes. In a second step, the article evaluates this finding. It argues that these and other de facto independent regimes with the same coercive and normative capabilities to comply with these overarching obligations should be recognised as full human rights duty-bearers alongside states, even though this is not the case to date. Discussing the wider legal, practical and normative implications of this submission, it concludes with suggesting that all other de facto independent regimes and other armed non-state actors with influence or control over populations should rather become bound by selected rules of the law of occupation or so-called ‘responsibilities for human rights’ to close existing regulatory gaps in international humanitarian law (IHL) of non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) in a practice-informed and normatively convincing way.
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