Resistance Movements and Solidarity Groups

National Resistance Groups Recognized by the United Nations

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Under the U.N. charter and international treaties, the principle of self-determination provides that historically united groups of people (e.g. the Palestinians) have a right to determine their own form of government. In South Africa, for instance, the black majority was denied self-determination under the apartheid system. Today, there are many different ethnic national groups (like the Karenni in Burma, the Kurds in Iraq, the Kashmiris in Kashmir and the Tibetans in Tibet) who are denied self-determination in violation of international law.

When armed resistance groups meet certain tests and follow the rules set out by the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian (armed conflict) law, they are not considered terrorist organizations or mercenaries, but legitimate parties to a conflict. Therefore, like the African National Congress in South Africa during apartheid, they have recognized legal status, granting them specific rights, such as to be treated as prisoners of war if apprehended, rather than be subjected to criminal proceedings for shooting a soldier or for treason.

Under the Geneva Conventions, neither the resistance army nor government forces may target civilians in their attacks. They must maintain a responsible chain of command and they must operate from their own territory. However, if the rules of warfare are repeatedly broken, they may be subject to prosecution by an international tribunal for war crimes. For example, the "Contras" attacking Nicaragua during the 1980's did not meet the legal tests or follow the rules of war. This mercenary army was financed primarily by a third party (the United States via money raised through missile sales to Iran) and frequently targetted civilians during their incursions into Nicaragua from their CIA-managed base in Honduras. The operation was disbanded shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986.

Organizations set up to support legitimate resistance movements outside the country where the war is taking place are sometimes referred to as "solidarity" groups. Their mission is to educate the public and lobby on behalf of the armed resistance in order to achieve greater international recognition and support, like the ANC during apartheid. In the United States and Europe, solidarity groups initiated the economic boycott that forced the South African government to grant full citizenship rights to the black majority. During the wars in Central America in the 1980's, solidarity groups lobbied vigorously for the U.S. Congress to stop sending military aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The groups also raised several hundred thousand dollars in humanitarian aid for the victims of war. The United Nations eventually brokered an end to the Salvadoran conflict whereby the rebelling factions became part of the government, while the CIA pulled out of Guatemala and Honduras.

For more information on the subject of humanitarian (armed conflict) law, visit the International Committee of the Red Cross website, and also the Karen Parker Home Page for Humanitarian Law.

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For more links, see: Regional and Country-Specific Human Rights Groups.

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