This introductory chapter explores the definition of ‘accountability’ and explains why it will only be achieved if based upon firmly established legal rules. It conducts a comprehensive review of the different circumstances in which armed groups have been held accountable under human rights law by accountability mechanisms such as the Security Council, Commissions of Inquiry, UN field offices, and Special Rapporteurs. The chapter charts the principle legal explanations that have been given to support the practice of holding armed groups bound by human rights law, including customary international law, control of territory, jus cogens norms, and crimes against humanity. After identifying some of the shortcomings of these arguments, the chapter explains that the purpose of this study is to determine how and when armed groups can be bound by human rights law.
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