De Facto Regimes in International Law

Author:Jonte van Essen
Position:Utrecht University School of Law, LL.M. Public International Law (2011); Utrecht University School of Law, LL.B. (2010)
Pages:31-49
De Facto Regimes in International Law
Jonte van Essen
Merkourios 2012 – Volume 28/Issue 74, Article, pp. 31-49.
URN: NBN:NL:UI:10-1-112849
ISSN: 0927-460X
URL: www.merkourios.org
Publisher: Igitur, Utrecht Publishing & Archiving Services
Copyright: this work has been licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0)
Keywords
De Facto Regimes, Recognition, International Legal Personality
Abstract
e ambiguous position of de facto regimes in international law has long been the subject of scholarly debate and a source of
political conict. An assessment of the current standing of these regimes in international law and the consequences of actions
by international actors on this status has, however, been long overdue. e manner in which de facto regimes are regarded
internationally has serious consequences for the individuals under the inuence of this legal grey area. erefore, the study
into this problem and possible solutions is of great signicance. e 2011 developments in Northern Africa underline the
need of contemporary research into this area. is essay aims to clarify the position of de facto regimes in international law
and the inuence on their status by actions of international actors. e author rst argues that de facto regimes have rights
and obligations under international law, which provide them with (some form of) international legal personality. He then
pleads for a reconsideration of the contemporary legal treatment of these regimes. e author argues against the current
system of government recognition and proposes a system that better addresses the needs of both de facto regimes and the
international community.
Author Aliations
Utrecht University School of Law, LL.M. Public International Law (2011); Utrecht University School of Law, LL.B. (2010).
Article
Merkourios - International and European Security Law - Vol. 28/74 31
Case Note
Article
I. Introduction1
e Ivorian election crisis of late 2010 marked the beginning of an interstate conict between the seated government under
President Laurent Gbagbo and the regime under the contested winner of the elections, Alassane Ouattara.2 Clashes between
the forces loyal to the two men resulted in the death of more than a thousand and the displacement of over a million persons.
Under the inuence of measures taken by the international community, Ouattara’s regime was later installed as the Ivory
Coast’s ocial government.3 In 2011, Libya was in the grip of a civil war between forces loyal to the seated government under
Moammar Gadha and opposition forces seeking to depose him.4 ese opposition forces had organized themselves as the
‘National Transitional Council’ (‘NTC’), controlling large parts of the Libyan territory.5 In its struggle to become Libya’s
ocial government, acts by international actors have played an important role.
ese situations give rise to numerous issues of international law. Firstly, because the primary actors in international law are
states, international law principally applies to the governments of these states. Regimes that are not governments of states, but
do exert control over territory, are left with an ambiguous position in the system of the international community. Because the
actions of these regimes may have enormous (humanitarian, economical, social and political) consequences, it is important
to examine their status in the international legal order. Secondly, actions by members of the international community may
aect the status of these regimes. Categorization of these actions and their eects is needed to accurately portray the current
international legal order in which both regular states and ‘irregular’ regimes are placed.
ese legal complications have long been the focus of scholarly debate, but an assessment of the current system with regard to
these regimes and the inuence of international actors on them has long been overdue. Since the rst half of the 20th century,
with mainly European legal scholarship, the position of de facto regimes and the practice of governmental recognition has
been ignored, or at least not been given the attention it deserves.6 Because these legal diculties have severe consequences for
the people in situations under the inuence of this legal grey area, the study of these problems (and their possible solutions)
is of great signicance. e recent developments in Northern Africa underline the need of contemporary research into these
areas. In this essay I hope to clarify the position of de facto regimes and how other international actors inuence their status.
Part II provides an overview of the nature of de facto regimes. It introduces the reader to the entity that is the focus of this
essay. Part III considers the application of international law to these regimes. e problematic position of de facto regimes in
the international legal system forms the main point of focus in this section. I will argue that de facto regimes do have rights
and obligations under international law, which provides them with international legal personality. In part IV, I assess the
nature of governmental recognition and its eects on de facto regimes. I will argue against the system of recognition as it is
currently used and propose a system that better addresses the needs of both de facto regimes and the international community.
In the conclusion to this essay, I will plead for a reconsideration of the contemporary legal treatment of de facto regimes.
II. e De Facto Regime
Before considering the position of the de facto regime (‘DFR’) in international law and the international community -and the
consequences of this position- it is necessary to dene what is meant exactly by the term ‘de facto regime’. For the purposes of
this essay, I will adhere to the denition that is most generally agreed on by international legal authors. By this denition, a
DFR is an entity which exercises ‘at least some eective […] authority over a territory within a state’.7 is degree of eective
authority is coupled with a certain degree of political and organizational capacity. Moreover, this entity intends to represent
the state of which it partially or completely controls the territory in the capacity of ocial government. In order for a DFR to
attain ocial government status, it is argued, some form of agreement or recognition is needed from the actors that constitute
the international community.8 Prior to an expression of agreement or recognition by these entities, the DFR remains in its ‘de
1 is paper is an adapted and abridged version of the doctoral thesis by Jonte van Essen, entitled ‘De Facto Regimes in International Law’, which was completed
at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance of Utrecht University on 15 August 2011 under the supervision of Dr. Cedric Ryngaert. For the full version
of this essay, comments or questions please contact the author at jontevanessen@gmail.com.
2 Allan Little, ‘Q&A, Ivory Coast Crisis’ BBC News (London, 13 April 2011) .bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11916590> accessed 10 August 2011.
3 ‘UN backs Cote d’Ivoire’s Ouattara’ Al Jazeera (Doha, 24 December 2010)
accessed 9 August 2011; A Nossiter, ´In Belated Inauguration, Ivory Coast’s President Urges Unity’ e New York Times (New York, 21 May 2011)
nytimes.com/2011/05/22/world/africa/22ivory.html> accessed 9 August 2011.
4 BBC News (n 2).
5 Libyan National Transitional Council accessed 6 August 2011.
6 H Kelsen, ‘Recognition in International Law: eoretical Observations’ [1941] 35 AJIL; H Lauterpacht, Recognition in International Law (reprinted from Yale
Law Journal 1947); J Frowein, Das de facto-Regime im Volkerrecht (Carl Heymanns Verlag 1968).
7 M Schoiswohl, ‘De Facto Regimes and Human Rights Obligations-e Twilight Zone of Public International Law?’ [2001] Austrian Review of International and
European Law 50.
8 is notion will be elaborated below. See infra, sections III and IV.
32 Merkourios - International and European Security Law - Vol. 28/74
Article
facto’ position, the words ‘de facto’ signifying the regime’s factual control but illegal (or extralegal) foundations.
It is useful to distinguish DFRs from entities that are similar, but which dier in several crucial aspects. Firstly, the DFR
should be distinguished from the de facto state. A de facto state is a geographical and political entity that has all the features
of a state,9 but is ‘unable to achieve any degree of substantive recognition and therefore remains illegitimate in the eyes of
international society’.10 e entity that constitutes a de facto state seeks ‘full constitutional independence and widespread
recognition as a sovereign state’.11 Examples of de facto states are the Republic of Somaliland12 and the Republic of Kosovo.
e entity that constitutes a DFR, on the other hand, aspires to be recognized by the international community as being the
ocial government of an already existing state.13 e important dierence, therefore, between the de facto state and the de
facto regime is the ambition behind its organization. While the de facto state pursues secession or independence from the
parent state, the DFR seeks to be recognized as the ocial government, leaving the parent state and its territories intact.
Similarly, DFRs can be distinguished from national liberation movements. While national liberation movements strive for
the liberation of a repressed ‘people’,14 this is not necessarily the case for DFRs.15 e DFR should also be distinguished from
the de facto government. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, I would argue that this practice is not (in all
instances) accurate. A de facto government is an entity that is in factual control over the complete territory of a state, but is not
recognized as that state’s government by the international community. e de facto regime, however, is an entity that does not
necessarily control the entire territory of a state; its inuence can also be less substantial.16 e DFR’s degree of control can
range from power over small parts of the state to full control of the whole territory, after which it can also be identied as a de
facto government. e distinguishing factor here is the degree of eective control over the respective state’s territory. When an
entity is in eective control of only certain parts of a state, it cannot be accurately labeled as the ‘de facto government’ of that
state, but it can be identied as a DFR. Only when an entity is in full control of a state, but not recognized as a member of
the international community, can the terms ‘de facto government’ and ‘de facto regime’ be used interchangeably. is means
that a de facto government can always be identied as a de facto regime, but not vice versa.
Finally, DFRs can be dierentiated from belligerent and insurgent groups. e dierence here is the degree of political
organization exercised by the group. Belligerents or insurgents do not (necessarily) require political motives and an eective
organization to achieve their status, as is the case with DFRs.17 is means that belligerents and insurgents can under certain
circumstances acquire the status of DFRs (if the group exercises a certain degree of political authority and organizational
ability), but that these groups cannot automatically be labeled as being DFRs.
To conclude, the DFR is a politically organized entity that exercises eective control over parts of a state with the aim of
becoming the ocial government of that state. Because the regime is not (yet) part of the international community, it
exercises its authority ‘de facto’ (signaling its illegal or at least extralegal foundation). Within this basic denition, individual
DFRs exist in a myriad of forms that can change over time.
III. e Application of International Law to De Facto Regimes
A. De Facto Regimes and International Law
e identity of international actors -their international legal personality (‘ILP’)- is of central importance in determining how
international law applies to them. Since its conception in German legal scholarship in the late 17th century,18 ILP has been
used in international law to ‘distinguish between those social actors the international legal system takes account of and those
9 S Pegg, International Society and the De Facto State (Ashgate 1998) 26.
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12 See M Schoiswohl, Status and (Human Rights) Obligations of Non-Recognized De Facto Regimes in International Law: e Case of ‘Somaliland’ (Martinus Nijho
2004).
13 Frowein (n 6) 7.
14 I Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law (Oxford University Press 2008) 63. Brownlie describes the typical national liberation movement as ‘a non-self-
governing people engaged in a process of national liberation upon the colonial (or dominant) power’.
15 e DFR is characterized by its wish to be recognized as the ocial government. e motive behind this goal does not dene an entity as a DFR.
16 A Ross, Lehrbuch des Volkerrechts (Kollhammer Verlag 1951) 100. Ross distinguishes between the ‘local de facto government’ (lokale de facto-Regierung), which
controls parts of the state’s territory, and the ‘general de facto government’ (allgemeinen de facto-Regierung), which controls the complete territory.
17 Brownlie (n 14) 62-63; A Cassese, International Law (Oxford University Press 2005) 140-142; Ross (n 16) 99.
18 J Nijman, e Concept of International Legal Personality: An Inquiry Into the History and eory of International Law (TMC Asser Press 2004) 29.
33
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being excluded from it’.19 As in any legal system this division was, and is still, necessary to clarify which parties fall under
the law’s authority and which do not.20 erefore it is argued that the international legal system ‘has to determine whom it
endows with the rights and duties contained in it and whose actions it takes account of by attaching legal consequences to
them’.21 ILP was created as a device that indicates whether an entity exists under international law and is ‘recognized as having
a separate legal identity’.22
Historically, international law (and the rights and duties emanating from it) extends fully only to entities possessing complete
international legal personality. Because of this, the principal addressees of international law have since its origin been states.23
Statehood and ILP have at times even been ‘regarded as synonymous’.24 However, scholarly discourse has indicated that
despite states being the primary and most undisputed international legal persons, it can be argued that other entities also
(partially) possess ILP. Among these potential candidates are international organizations,25 transnational corporations26 and
even individual persons.27 ese actors are bound to dierent sets of rights and obligations and therefore dier in their legal
personality. According to the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) in the Reparations case: ‘the subjects of law in any legal
system are not necessarily identical in their nature or in the extent of their rights, and their nature depends upon the needs
of the community’.28 In the remainder of this section, I will argue that DFRs possess at least some form of ILP and have to
be regarded as relevant (legal) actors in the international community.
In understanding the degree of ILP that DFRs possess and in determining their place in the international community, an
assessment needs to be made of the freedoms and responsibilities accorded to them. is seems contradictory; the title that
gives DFRs their rights and duties in the international community is dependent on these rights and duties themselves.29
However, these attributes are needed to create (and give personality to) an entity that is capable of acting on an international
level. ey are benchmarks that attest to the ‘maturity’, acceptance by other entities, and therefore, the ILP of the body in
question. Although international law places DFRs in an indeterminate position, ‘it does –in dierent forms– vest rights and
obligations upon them’.30 To fully understand the place taken by DFRs in the international judicial system, an assessment of
these legal rights and duties is needed. Only after such an investigation can a denitive answer be given as to the degree of
ILP DFRs possess, how international law applies to them and what their legal position is in the international community. In
this investigation, a conclusion on the degree of ILP is not of ultimate importance. Of primary concern is the assessment of
the international rights and duties accorded to DFRs.
Due to the ambiguous status of ILP accorded to DFRs, categorizing the legal rights and obligations of DFRs in the
international community and in the domestic sphere is not without complications. is, however, does not mean that DFRs
have no international rights or obligations: ‘international law has (…) developed some rudimentary mechanisms to ensure
that the developments on the ground are not entirely left to the (domestic) “laws” of anarchy’.31 In the following paragraphs,
I will rst consider the rights and duties of DFRs in relation to other international actors. After that I will consider the
application of international law to the domestic environment of DFRs. Finally, I will consider whether DFRs possess ILP
and, if so, in what capacity.
B. Legal Rights and Obligations in the International Community
1. International Humanitarian Law
International humanitarian law (‘IHL’) is recognized as one of the most basic categories of international law and can partially
be identied as customary international law.32 IHL is dened as ‘a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit
19 R Portmann, Legal Personality in International Law (Cambridge University Press 2010) 5.
20 See M Shaw, International Law (Cambridge University Press 2008)195-197.
21 Portmann (n 19) 7.
22 Nijman (n 18) 3.
23 M Shaw (n 20) 197.
24 Portmann (n 19) 9.
25 Reparations for Injuries Suered in the Service of the United Nations (Advisory Opinion) [1949] ICJ Reports 1949 179-180.
26 Shaw (n 20) 249-250.
27 Nijman (n 18) 473.
28 Reparations case (n 25) 178.
29 Brownlie (n 14) 57.
30 Schoiswohl (n 12) 52.
31 Shaw (n 20) 55.
32 ibid 1167-1168. See also J Henckaerts et al., Customary International Humanitarian Law Volume 1: Rules (ICRC 2005).
Article
34 Merkourios - International and European Security Law - Vol. 28/74
the eects of armed conict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the
means and methods of warfare’.33 As DFRs often originate and exist in situations of (internal) conict, with the opposing
party usually being the parent state’s government or another non-state entity, IHL deserves special attention. As set out below,
DFRs are bound by rules of IHL. International criminal law, like IHL, includes basic and universal norms of international
law often relied upon in situations of armed conict. International criminal law applies to those crimes that are regarded as
so grave that they ‘constitute oence against the world community’.34 As this includes war crimes, crimes against humanity
and torture, an examination of its applicability to DFRs is necessary.35 I will rst consider the applicability of IHL to DFRs
as entities and then proceed to briey consider whether individuals who are part of these regimes are liable for prosecution
under international criminal law.
e 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Protocols are seen as the primary codication of the laws of war. Together, they
constitute ‘the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conict and seeks to limit its eects’.36 e
majority of the provisions found in the Conventions apply to armed conict on an international scale. A smaller portion of
its rules applies to internal armed conicts. ese provisions require attention, as many DFRs are in armed conict with the
forces of their parent state. Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions is seen as the absolute basis of IHL in the context
of internal armed conict.37 is article provides that, during armed conict, distinction should be made between those who
take active part in hostilities and those who do not. 38 Accordingly, those not taking part in hostilities are protected against
the most brutal forms of violence and acts that constitute grave violations of human dignity. e view that Common Article
3 binds ‘each party’ to an internal armed conict (including DFRs), as its text suggests, is not self-evident, for States Parties
to the Geneva Conventions are the entities primarily obliged to respect Common Article 3.39 Holding DFRs that take part
in an internal conict accountable for violation of the standards of this article has therefore to rely on other foundations.
e most convincing evidence that the provisions of Common Article 3 are to be applied universally is the fact that the article
is a customary rule.40 As reiterated by the ICJ in the Nicaragua case, Common Article 3 provides a ‘minimum yardstick’ in
any armed conict and reects ‘elementary considerations of humanity’.41 Some authors go further and argue that Common
Article 3 constitutes a ‘general principle of humanitarian law’42 and even jus cogens.43 is indicates that Common Article 3
can be universally applied to all types of conict. e universal legal nature of the article, coupled with its text, establishes
its applicability to DFRs. e text of Common Article 3 requires ‘each party to the conict’ to apply its provisions.44 In his
commentary to the rst Geneva Convention, Jean Pictet (1952) reects on the binding nature of Common Article 3 to non-
state entities by stating:
Until recently it would have been considered impossible in law for an international Convention to bind a
non-signatory Party -- a Party, moreover, which was not yet in existence and which was not even required
to represent a legal entity capable of undertaking international obligations. Each of the Parties will thus be
required to apply Article 3 by the mere fact of that Party’s existence and of the existence of an armed conict
between it and the other Party. e obligation is absolute for each of the Parties, and independent of the
obligation on the other Party.45
As a reaction to the doubt expressed that non-state entities like DFRs can be bound to Article 3, Pictet further contends: ‘if
the responsible authority at their head exercises eective sovereignty, it is bound by the very fact that it claims to represent
33 ICRC, ‘What is International Humanitarian Law?’ [2004]
accessed 12 July 2011.
34 G Partin, ‘International Criminal Law’ [2011] accessed 19 July 2011.
35 Cassese (n 17) 436.
36 ICRC, ‘e Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols’ [2010] .icrc.org/eng/war-and-law/treaties-customary-law/geneva-
conventions/overview-geneva-conventions.htm> accessed 26 July 2011. ‘e Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that
contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.’
37 L Moir, e Law of Internal Armed Conict (Cambridge University Press 2002) 31.
38 1949 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 75 UNTS, Art 3.
39 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1155 UNTS 331, Art 26. ‘Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by
them in good faith.’
40 Moir (n 37) 56; Cassese (n 17) 431; Schoiswohl (n 12) 58.
41 Case concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v United States of America) [1986] ICJ Reports 1986 14, para 218.
42 Brownlie (n 14) 564.
43 Moir (n 37) 56-57.
44 Geneva Convention (n 38) Art 3.
45 J Pictet, Commentary on the I Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field (ICRC 1952) 51.
Article
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the country, or part of the country’.46 e fact that Article 3 is of a customary nature and its provisions are ‘legally binding
on all parties to an (internal) armed conict’47 means that it is applicable to DFRs.48 Article 3 applies regardless of whether
their adversaries are represented by the parent state, or by other non-state entities.
Other fundamental provisions of IHL, as customary law, can also be universally applied to all parties in any conict. is
includes the prohibition of chemical weapons49 and provisions included in Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions.50 ese
universal rules of IHL bind combatants in any armed conict and are applicable in both an internal and international
context. DFRs and their counterparts are therefore bound to respect them. It goes outside the scope of this essay to produce
an exhaustive list of IHL provisions that bind DFRs through their inclusion in customary law or otherwise. However, the
above shows that DFRs do indeed have, albeit rudimentary, obligations under IHL in both internal and international armed
conict.
2. International Criminal Law
As with IHL, certain provisions of international criminal law (‘ICL’) apply to DFRs or, more accurately, individuals who
are part of DFRs. As with IHL, norms of ICL are regarded as representing minimal standards of humanity. e crimes
punishable under these central legal notions are seen as so abhorrent that prosecution of them must be generally available.
ese types of crimes, which are regarded as central to ICL and universally punishable, have been codied in Article 5 of the
Statute of the International Criminal Court (‘ICCst’). Article 5 of the Statute contains ‘the most serious crimes of concern to
the international community as a whole’.51 Its provisions are regarded as general principles of international criminal law and
customary international law.52 e international crimes contained in this Article are: the crime of genocide, crimes against
humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.53 As ICL primarily applies to individuals, there are no direct diculties
applying most of the provisions of Article 5 to members of DFRs in the same way as they would apply to members of
states.54 Individuals who are part of DFRs are thus prohibited from committing genocide or war crimes, regardless of their
membership in an entity with limited ILP. Enforcement of these measures does, however, presuppose jurisdiction of the ICC
over the territory in which the DFR is situated. For instance, the members of the forces under Ouattara during their campaign
against the military of the seated Ivorian government were prohibited from, inter alia, taking hostages or torturing.55
e provisions of the ICCst dene crimes against humanity as crimes committed ‘pursuing or furthering a State or
organizational policy to commit an attack against a civilian population’.56 Because of this policy element, it was seen as
necessary ‘to include groups which constitute non-state actors as qualifying for the legal capacity to formulate such a policy’57
so that the individuals of these groups can be prosecuted under the ICCst. Documents by international organizations and
the practice of international tribunals have conrmed that non-state actors do indeed possess the capacity to devise and carry
out policy as described in the articles of the ICCst.58 e non-state actors now considered prosecutable under the ICCst
‘must have some of the characteristics of state actors, which include the exercise of dominion or control over territory or
people, or both, and the ability to carry out a “policy” similar in nature to that of “state action or policy”’.59 As most DFRs
possess these characteristics, it follows that individuals in these groups who commit crimes against humanity are liable for
prosecution under the provisions of the ICCst, despite the limited ILP of their organization. e fact that the commission
of crimes against humanity requires policy-making abilities does not exclude members of DFRs from the prohibition’s scope.
erefore, international criminal law does apply to DFRs and its members.
e situation in Libya before the end of August 2011 can be used to illustrate the notions set out above. Firstly, the Libyan
46 ibid 51-52.
47 Moir (n 37) 58. Colons added.
48 T Meron, Human Rights in Internal Strife: eir International Protection (Grotius 1987) 39.
49 Cassese (n 17) 432.
50 L Zegveld, e Accountability of Armed Opposition Groups in International Law (Cambridge University Press 2002) 20-21, 146-147.
51 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2187 UNTS 3, Art 5.
52 Brownlie (n 14) 589; A Cassese et al., e Oxford Companion to: International Criminal Justice (Oxford University Press 2009) 54; Cassese (n 17) 436.
53 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (n 51) Art 5.
54 M Cherif Bassiouni, Introduction to International Criminal Law (Transnational 2003) 68. ‘e responsibility of non-state actors is not a new category of subjects
in ICL, because international criminal responsibility is individual’.
55 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (n 51) Art 8(2)(a). Both hostage taking and torturing are regarded as war crimes under the Statute.
56 Cassese (n 17) 287.
57 Cherif Bassiouni (n 54) 69.
58 UN Doc. S/1994/674 (1994) on Crimes against Humanity Committed by DFRs in Yugoslavia; UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/119 (1998) on the Activities of Non-
state Entities in Liberia; Prosecutor v Tadic (Merits) IT-94-1 (ICTY, 2 October 1995); Prosecutor v Dragon Nikolic IT-94-2-R61 (ICTY, 20 October 1995), para
26.
59 Cherif Bassiouni (n 54) 71.
Article
36 Merkourios - International and European Security Law - Vol. 28/74
conict featured ‘protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups within a state’,60
as the Libyan government under Gadha and the NTC had been engaged in armed conict since February 2011. As
illustrated above, the NTC fell under the denition of ‘DFR’ and possessed organizational capacity. Furthermore, the NTC
was an active party to the conict, performing structured attacks against the Libyan military, which made them culpable as
a group for illegal military action and individually for the perpetration of international crimes. ese circumstances made
the NTC, like other DFRs, bound by at least the basic provisions of IHL and ICL. It would, for instance, have been legally
prohibited for the NTC’s forces to purposely attack or torture unarmed civilians, make use of chemical weaponry or commit
crimes against humanity.
To conclude, under international law, DFRs must respect at least some of the rules developed under IHL and ICL. Although
these basic provisions only protect against the most barbarous forms of warfare and attacks on human dignity, they provide
‘for a minimum set of humanitarian standards, which remain applicable in times when core human rights are endangered
the most’.61
3. e Prohibition of the Use of Force
e prohibition of the use of force, as set out in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, prohibits the ‘threat or use of force against
the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the
United Nations’.62 e provision is ‘regarded […] as a principle of customary international law’63 and, according to some,
‘even as jus cogens’.64 It is disputed whether the customary character of the prohibition of the use of force in itself binds entities
other than states.65 Corten (2010) notes: ‘at present, there is nothing to show that any general agreement has been observed in
favour of the applicability of article 2(4) to situations that do not pertain to relations among States’.66 is does not, however,
mean that DFRs are never bound by the prohibition of the use of force.
In drafting the text of Article 2(4), several states proposed to explicitly ‘extend applicability of the rule to all “political
entities”’,67 including DFRs. e proposition met with ‘rm opposition’ from other states.68 e fact that the literal inclusion
of these groups was rejected in drafting the text of article 2(4), coupled with the consideration of state practice, lead Corten
(2010) to conclude: ‘Ultimately, no group of States has consistently defended an extension of the notion of ‘international
relations’ as an essential element of the prohibition of the use of force’.69 Conversely, Frowein (2009) argues: ‘State practice,
especially within the United Nations, clearly proves that the prohibition of the use of force applies […] to all independent
de facto regimes’.70 He bases this assumption on the UN Friendly Relations Declaration,71 the General Assembly’s Resolution
3314 and state practice.72 Frowein concludes that DFRs are both protected by and bound to the prohibition of the use of
force.73
Although there does not seem to be unanimity in hard law, state practice, or literature, I would agree with Frowein that DFRs
are (at least) partially bound by the prohibition of the use of force.74 is assumption is supported by the scholarly discourse
on the applicability of the use of force to actions of and reactions to the Taliban regime.75 According to Wolfrum (2002) the
Taliban, in its status as a DFR, enjoyed the right ‘not to become the target of force as referred to in Article 2 para. 4 of the UN
Charter’.76 Wolfrum further notes that ‘acts carried out by […] the Taliban […] could be made the target for actions of self-
defence’.77 is means that the prohibition of the use of force applied to the Taliban both as a right and a duty, as it does to
60 Tadic (n 58), para 70.
61 Schoiswohl (n 12) 62. Human rights obligations of DFRs will receive closer attention in paragraph III.C.
62 1945 Charter of the United Nations. 1 UNTS XVI, Art 2(4).
63 Shaw (n 20) 1123.
64 Evans et al., International Law (Oxford University Press 2010) 617.
65 Cassese (n 17) 157. According to Cassese, the customary nature of the prohibition of the use of force would indeed be enough to bind non-state entities.
66 O Corten, e Law Against War: e Prohibition on the Use of Force in Contemporary International Law (Hart 2010) 159. Italics added.
67 UN Doc. A/AC.134/L.17 (1969).
68 UN Doc. A/AC.134/SR.58 (1970); A/C.6/SR.1206 (1970).
69 Corten (n 66) 160.
70 J Frowein, ‘De Facto Regime’ (2009) .mpepil.com> accessed 14 July 2011, para 4.
71 UN Doc. A/RES/2625 (1970) 121. ‘Every State [...] has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate international lines of demarcation. Consider:
J Frowein (n 70), para 5. ‘is includes the borders of [...] de facto regimes’.
72 Un. Doc. A/RES/1134 (1974); J Frowein (n 70), paras 4-5.
73 J Frowein (n 6) 69. ‘[d]ie sich in einer befriedeten internationalen Stellung benden’.
74 H Blix, ‘Contemporary Aspects of Recognition’ [1970] Recueil de Cours 618.
75 See R Wolfrum et al., ‘e Status of the Taliban: eir Obligations and Rights Under International Law’ [2002] Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law.
76 ibid 585. Wolfrum adds that this protection only applies ‘between the de facto regime and third states not engaged in the [internal] conict’.
77 ibid 596.
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other DFRs. To conclude, I would argue that recent state practice and scholarly discourse support at least partial applicability
of the prohibition of the use of force to DFRs.
C. Legal Rights and Obligations in the ‘Domestic’ Sphere
As indicated above, DFRs are bound to minimum obligations of IHL and ICL. ese norms, especially those of ICL, do
not only protect those under the control of other states and non-state actors, but also those in territory under control of
the DFR. e principles of IHL and ICL applicable to DFRs provide its inhabitants protection from the most brutal forms
of conduct by these regimes. Whether DFRs have obligations towards the individuals living under their authority besides
these basic norms is less clear. Protection of persons in a domestic context is normally provided by human rights.78 However,
‘international human rights obligations still address mainly states as the primary guarantors (and violators) of human rights’.79
Again, the level of ILP accorded to DFRs is problematic in the application of otherwise normal guarantees of human rights
standards enjoyed by inhabitants of entities with full ILP.
Despite the ambiguous treatment of DFRs in international law and the ‘reluctance to incorporate [them] into its framework’,
the international community is ‘to the same extent reluctant –particularly in an area of major concern to human beings–
to explicitly exclude [DFRs] from any “responsibility” for the harm inicted [upon its inhabitants]’.80 As is the case with
international responsibility, eectiveness (and not legal rules) may be regarded as ‘the primary criterion for the attribution
of wrongful conduct’81 towards individuals inside the DFR’s territory. A development towards considering eectiveness and
‘secondary rules’82 as a source of obligations for DFRs is conrmed to some degree by international jurisprudence and state
practice. In Ahmed v Austria, the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) conrmed that DFRs are capable of violating
human rights just like normal governments.83 Besides being a valuable starting point, the worth of Ahmed v Austria (and
similar judgments)84 towards according human rights obligations to DFRs needs not be overstated. State practice oers a
more reliable foundation for the applicability of human rights norms to DFRs. Firstly, the UN Security Council,85 the UN
Commission on Human Rights86 and the Inter-American Commission87 have all condemned actions by DFRs contrary
to international human rights standards. Schoiswohl (2001) oers another argument for binding DFRs to human rights
obligations, by comparing them (by their limited ILP) with international organizations. He concludes that ‘to the extent these
organizations are assuming and administrating functions which bear the capacity to eventually compromise fundamental
rights of individuals, they appear to be constrained by international law and its general human rights […] obligations’.88
Schoiswohl continues by stating that ‘such a “functional” approach might […] be equally adopted to establish that de facto
regimes face international (human rights) obligations in so far as their legitimate tasks of local governance might endanger
the human rights of individuals living under their authority’.89 Although these parallels can be disputed by pointing out that
international organizations are created by states while DFRs are constituted in an illegal or extralegal manner, comparison is
possible on the grounds of their similar level of ILP.
Although the above arguments for the imposition of human rights obligations on DFRs are not conclusive, it seems that
the international community expresses a desire to hold DFRs to basic internal human rights norms. e limited ILP of
DFRs does not take away from their potential liability in the eld of human rights violations. While ‘States remain the main
providers and guarantors of human rights […] they do not hold a monopoly as evidenced by international organisations
or de facto authorities exercising a similar degree of eectiveness which enables them to equally guarantee or violate human
rights’.90
78 Cassese (n 17) 375-396; Shaw (n 20) 265-341.
79 Schoiswohl (n 12) 67.
80 ibid 68.
81 ibid 68. See also the above on state responsibility; compare in particular the Namibia case judgment.
82 ibid 63.
83 Ahmed v Austria [1996] ECHR 1996-VI, paras 10, 47. It was argued that if the applicant would be sent back to Austria, he would likely be the subject of human
rights violations by a local DFR. is means that the ECHR recognized that DFRs are capable of human rights violations.
84 Schoiswohl (n 12) 68-71.
85 UN Doc. S/RES/1193 (1998), para 14. e Security Council ‘urges the Afghan factions to put an end to the discrimination against girls and women and to
other violations of human rights’; UN Doc. S/RES/1213 (1998), para 7. e Council calls on UNITA (a former Angolan rebel army) to ‘respect international
humanitarian, refugee and human rights law’.
86 Zegveld (n 50) 48.
87 Zegveld (n 50) 47.
88 Schoiswohl (n 12) 82.
89 ibid 82.
90 ibid 87-88.
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D. International Legal Personality of De Facto Regimes
In the system of international legal personality, the position of DFRs is not easily dened. It is generally accepted that DFRs
possess a limited degree of ILP, evident from the expectations of other international actors, but they are not accorded the
same position that sovereign states and recognized governments have on the international legal plane. As the above has
indicated, DFRs, ‘which for one reason or the other cannot be regarded as States proper’,91 do indeed have the capacity to
possess international rights and obligations. International norms regarding IHL and ICL, but also norms of international
responsibility and ‘domestic’ protection of human rights, have been found to be applicable to de facto regimes. e need
for order and the desire to bind DFRs to at least some international obligations has surpassed the reluctance of states to
include them in the international community. As Schoiswohl (2001) argues, the application of international law to DFRs is
inconsistent with denying these entities at least some degree of ILP.92 Whether the accordance of rights and duties to these
regimes is born more out of necessity and practical concern or out of ethical considerations and the willingness to include
DFRs in international procedure is not critical in this assessment. e fact that DFRs are bound by international rights and
obligations is in itself an indication of ILP, regardless of the acceptance of these regimes by other international actors into
the international community. By this view, ILP is determined by the fact that entities like DFRs are expected to perform a
certain way on the international plane, rather than ILP being a superimposed status that brings with it international rights
and duties.93
Portmann (2010) explains this by using the ‘formal’ and ‘actor’ conceptions of ILP. By the ‘formal’ conception, ‘personality in
international law is […] not a precondition for holding international obligations or authorizations, but it is the consequence
of possessing them’.94 Furthermore, ILP is in this conception regarded as ‘a merely descriptive device belonging to the realm
of legal doctrine and as such being without concrete legal implications: being an international person thus simply reects
the sum of legal norms addressing a certain entity’.95 e ‘actor’ conception as used by Portmann further deconstructs the
idea of ILP as an a priori title that provides its subject with international rights and duties. It even avoids the concept of ILP
and ‘considers all entities exercising “eective powers” in the international “decision-making process”’ as being ‘participants’
or ‘actors’ in the international community.96 is participation on an international level is thus ‘not based on legal rules or
specic acts of recognition, but on eective power to participate’.97
e above has shown that the contemporary system of international law allows for the inclusion of regimes that are not in
complete possession of (the classic form of) ILP. is proposition can be based on dierent arguments and explained by
understanding ILP in dierent forms (e.g., the ‘formal’ and ‘actor’ conceptions). ese arguments and conceptions dier in
their denial of the importance and norm-creating nature of ILP, but a common thread can be distinguished from the variety
of theorems. is commonality is the notion that full ILP, as used before, is currently not considered necessary for an entity
to function in international law. Whether states agree on the inclusion of DFRs in the international community or not,
and whatever label is preferred to indicate their competence, their mere presence requires the international community to
vest them with certain rights and duties. ese rights and duties do, as shown above, accord DFRs with a status that can be
considered ILP.
e decreased importance of ILP and the necessity of its possession as a prerequisite of participation in the international
community also have important ramications for the international practice of government recognition, as will be examined
below.
IV. Recognition of De Facto Regimes
A. Recognition of De Facto Regimes in International Law
1. Denitions
Above I have considered the legal position of regimes that exist in a de facto capacity, which is to say that their governance
relies on eective control and on an illegal or extralegal basis. In this section I will consider acts by international entities
91 ibid 85.
92 ibid 83.
93 J Crawford, e Creation of States in International Law (Oxford University Press 2006) 30. ‘No further implications may be drawn from the existence of legal
personality: the extent of the powers, rights and responsibilities of any entity is to be determined only by examination of its actual position.’
94 Portmann (n 19) 174.
95 ibid 174.
96 ibid 208.
97 ibid 213.
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concerning these regimes and the eects that these acts have on their standing in the international community.
As DFRs seek to replace the seated government of their parent state, (partial) success in this pursuit brings about change in
the international community. is shift of power is often unconstitutional and sometimes by force, and the international
community has found it necessary to respond to these disruptions of the international order. Governmental recognition in
international law is one such method governments use to respond to these changes. Shaw (2008) understands the recognition
of governments in the following terms:
Recognition of an entity as the government of a state implies not only that this government is deemed to
have satised the required conditions [of governance] but also that the recognizing state will deal with the
government as the governing authority of the state and accept the usual legal consequences of such status.98
is duality, in the recognition of a factual situation and the willingness of the recognizing state to enter into relations, is
supported by Talmon (1998): ‘recognition of a government will express both the recognizing government’s willingness to
enter into ocial relations with it and its opinion that the government recognized exists as such’.99 If states previously expressed
doubts about a DFR’s capacity to govern or perform actions on an international level, these doubts are removed by recognition.
Recognition puts recognizing states in a position towards the DFR, which does not leave room for any limitations that might
previously have been allowed. After recognition, the regime is seen by the recognizing state as the ocial government of its
parent state, which has important consequences. As Peterson (1997) notes: ‘those who rule domestically also serve as the
state’s agents in international aairs – exercising its rights, ensuring fulllment of its obligations, and committing its resources
and reputation in relations with other states and other types of actor on the world scene’.100 As the ambition of a DFR is to
become the government of its parent state, recognition is of importance not only to that regime, but also to those who will
cooperate with the regime in its capacity as an ocial government. A state’s decision to recognize a DFR, vesting them with
rights in relation to the recognizing state, is thus not taken lightly and is made only after careful deliberation.
e theory of government recognition has since its conception been the subject of debate. According to Freeman (1950) this
controversy is the result of the political aspects of governmental recognition: ‘the subject [of recognition] is one of enormous
complexity, principally because it is an amalgam of political and legal elements which is unusual even for international law’.101
e fact that government recognition opens the door to all kinds of legal interaction between states and new governments
(former DFRs) seems to imply that it is indeed a legal practice. However, it cannot be denied that governmental recognition
is also a highly political aair. Kelsen (1941) acknowledges this duality and separates governmental recognition in its capacity
as a political and a legal act.102 e political act provides that ‘the recognizing state is willing to enter into political and other
relations with the recognized […] government’.103 is political act, according to Kelsen, ‘has no legal eect whatsoever’ and
is therefore ‘not constitutive for the legal existence of the recognized state or government’.104 e legal aspect of recognition
has the eect ‘that the recognized community becomes in its relations with the recognizing state in itself a […] a subject of
rights and obligations stipulated by international law’.105 It is therefore ‘the establishment of a fact; it is not the expression
of a will’.106 is view accurately reects the manner in which government recognition is used, while providing for both the
political and legal side of its process.
Government recognition is, mainly because of its political aliation, a highly disputed legal problem. Its solution or the
creation of universal guidelines for recognition is made more dicult by the fact that it ‘leads in the practice of states to
[…] paradoxical situations’.107 Nonetheless, understanding the various forms and consequences of governmental recognition
is crucial in understanding the position of DFRs in the international community and their relations to other international
entities. In the next sections I will assess the current process of governmental recognition, highlight its ambiguities and
propose a more useful system.
98 Shaw (n 20) 455.
99 S Talmon, Recognition of Governments in International Law; with Particular Reference to Governments in Exile (Clarendon 1998) 33.
100 M Peterson, Recognition of Governments: Legal Doctrine and State Practice, 1815-1995 (Palgrave Macmillian 1997) 1.
101 A Freeman, ‘Current Notes’ [1950] 44 AJIL 378.
102 Kelsen (n 6) 605. ‘e term “recognition” may be said to be comprised of two quite distinct acts: a political act and a legal act’.
103 ibid.
104 ibid.
105 Kelsen (n 6) 608; Kelsen supports this notion by stating that: ‘It is a fundamental, though often overlooked, principle of jurisprudence that in the province of
law there are no absolute, directly evident facts, facts “in themselves,” but only facts established by the competent authority in a procedure prescribed by the legal
order.’
106 ibid.
107 ibid 605.
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2. Forms and Misconceptions
Governmental recognition can be seen as a category, which includes dierent individual forms.108 It can, in its dierent
capacities, be used in dierent ways that reect the opinions and motivations of the recognizing government.
Historically, recognition has been divided into de jure and de facto recognition. Recognition de jure can be regarded as the
‘pure’ and full form of recognition. De jure recognition ‘follows where the recognizing state accepts that the eective control
displayed by the [new] government is permanent and rmly rooted and that there are no legal reasons detracting from
this’.109 De facto recognition is regarded as a second form of recognition. De facto recognition is used to indicate a hesitance
on the side of the recognizing state in according de jure recognition.110 It is further used as ‘a simple acknowledgement that
a government exists and wields eective control over people and territory’.111 As a disputed category of recognition, it poses
diculties in understanding the legal system of government recognition. De facto recognition disconnects, as it were, the dual
function of recognition (the acknowledgement that the new government exists and the willingness to enter into diplomatic
relations with it). is means that de facto recognition is usually accompanied by disapproval of the recognizing state towards
the new regime, or at least the expectancy of certain improvements before de jure recognition is granted. De facto recognition
is also regarded as being open to withdrawal, as opposed to de jure recognition.112
Lauterpacht (1947) defends the notion and practice of de facto recognition. He argues that ‘de facto and de jure recognition
are [both] legal acts’ and ‘terms expressive not of any judgment upon the legitimacy of the recognized authority from the
point of view of the constitutional law of the State concerned, but upon its claim to be considered as validly and eectively
representing the State or territory in question’.113 I would, however, argue that de facto recognition is not a legal practice
and that it is solely used to express political opinions under the pretense of international law.114 De facto recognition does
not create a new legal relationship between the recognizing state and the recognized DFR (which is precisely the aim of
de facto recognition). It does not create any obligations for any of the parties, but is somehow regarded as holding the key
for cooperation that is otherwise not possible. I would argue that de facto recognition is in fact an extension of the choice
between recognition and abstention from recognition. Whereas the recognizing government expresses favoritism towards
one of the rivaling groups,115 abstention from recognition achieves the same legal position as de facto recognition (namely,
expressing reservations to recognition) and leaves the door open for political contact that would be available in the context
of de facto recognition. Talmon (1998) states that ‘de facto recognition must have a meaning other than the mere negation
of de jure recognition’.116 He bases this on the fact that some states express that they ‘do not (want to) recognize a certain
government […], either de jure “or” de facto’.117 According to this view, states that recognize de facto indicate something above
non-recognition, but below de jure recognition. However, the fact that states have dierent intentions when they express de
facto recognition than when expressing de jure recognition does not make it viable as a legal practice. I would argue that this
grey area between full recognition and its denial is neither productive, nor legally sustainable. It indicates the opinion of the
recognizing state towards the DFR and its diplomatic intentions, but it does not in itself create binding relations between
the entities. Furthermore, de facto recognition seems to presume that, without it, the factual situation on the ground does
not exist. As Brown (1942) states: ‘if people have grouped together for a political purpose, on a given territory, and are
independent, it would be obviously absurd to say that they do not exist’.118 erefore, de facto recognition is not necessary
because the de facto situation (and, as has been shown above, the DFR itself) exists regardless of recognition by another entity.
For these reasons, de facto recognition can be considered as a way to identify the opinion expressed by a government towards
a DFR, but nothing more. Rather than a menu from which governments choose a method of recognition, it can be used as
a chart on which the position of a government towards a DFR can be placed. De facto recognition (as a ‘label’) is therefore
useful in situations where two factions (usually the government and a DFR) are contesting eective control over an area. De
108 Shaw (n 20) 459.
109 ibid 460; See also paragraph 1. e descriptions of recognition can be used as examples of de jure recognition.
110 Talmon (n 99) 47-49.
111 ibid 88.
112 Lauterpacht (n 6) 346.
113 ibid 330.
114 With this I mean that de facto recognition has no (legal) purpose, other than the expression of disapproval of a new regimes and unwillingness to enter into
relations with it. Brownlie (n 14) 91. ‘e disctinction [between de jure and de facto recognition] occurs exclusively in the political context of recognition of
governments’; See also M Akehurst, A Modern Introduction to International Law (Routledge 1970) 85.
115 Peterson (n 100) 92. ‘Recognition of governments […] has been cast in binary form: a new regime is either recognized as the government of its state or it is not.
Yet there have been eorts to escape binary reasoning’.
116 Talmon (n 99) 82.
117 ibid 81.
118 P Brown, ‘e Eects of Recognition’ [1942] 36 AJIL 107.
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facto recognition should be understood as abstention from recognition, coupled with acknowledgement of a factual situation.
In this manner, it can be used by governments to indicate which entity is regarded as the dominant or favored one in their
struggle for dominance. It is not a legal practice, as it does not produce legal consequences for either of the parties. However,
despite its controversial nature, de facto recognition is still practiced in the international community.119
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the varying application of governmental recognition has recently caused confusion in
the international press and among the general public. At the heart of this ambiguous situation is the fact that there can
be only one legitimate and recognized government of a State at only one point in time.120 erefore, it is not possible for
a government to have full (legal) international relations with both a DFR and the government of its parent state. is is
further complicated by the fact that recognition is often presumed before it has been ocially given by governments. What
is generally perceived as full or de jure recognition often is not full government recognition. An example of this was the
diplomatic reaction of governments to the situation in Libya in 2011 and its reception in the international press. e major
problem in this case was that the condemnation of the Gadha regime, coupled with the willingness to open consular or
diplomatic relations with the National Transitional Council (which presumed acknowledgement of a degree of eective
control on the side of the NTC), was conceived as (de jure) governmental recognition. is presumption is not correct, for
the mere approval by government ocials of the NTC in combination with the disapproval of the Gadha government
is in itself not enough to create any legal eects between the approving government and the DFR. When, for instance,
German Foreign Minister Westerwelle stated in June 2011 that Gadha’s government had ‘lost legitimacy’121 and that ‘the
national council is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people’,122 this was not an expression of recognition.123 When
the German government ‘recognized’ the Libyan rebels, it did so to express its preference for the NTC and disapproval of
the Libyan military. It did not intend to create any legal relation between itself and the NTC. Although presented as de jure
recognition by international media,124 the sole expression of approval of the NTC’s actions and the willingness to negotiate
with its leaders is not sucient for it to constitute an act of recognition on behalf of the German government. I would argue
that the practice of de facto recognition can be useful in ‘labeling’ certain actions by governments and categorizing a group of
ambiguous motivations expressed towards the recognized subject, but not as a legal practice. As seen above, regarding de facto
recognition or methods other than de jure recognition as legally viable causes unnecessary confusion. Below, I will consider
more useful approaches to government recognition.
As opposed to de facto recognition, de jure recognition does have a legal eect on the relation between the recognizing state
and the DFR. For instance, the statements made by French ocials during the Libyan conict concerning the NTC can be
seen as expressions according de jure recognition to the Libyan DFR. e French Minister of Foreign Aairs, Alain Juppé,
stated on 7 June 2011:
Ever since its creation, France has considered the Libyan National Transitional Council to be its legitimate
political partner and intends to provide it with its full support in building a free, united and democratic
Libya. […] e National Transitional Council is the only holder of governmental authority in the contacts
between France and Libya and its related entities.125
is statement undoubtedly expresses a willingness to enter into full diplomatic relations with the NTC and recognition
of factual control over Libyan territory exercised by the Council. erefore, this statement (and others made by the French
government) can be regarded as an expression of recognition, as opposed to those made by Germany in June 2011 and by
other states.126
De jure recognition has legal implications and substantially changes relationships in the international order. It creates
clarity and is not open to unreliable promises by uncertain governments, as is the case with de facto recognition. DFRs
119 Talmon (n 99) 89.
120 ibid 105.
121 ‘Deutschland erkennt libyschen Rebellenrat anDer Spiegel (Hamburg, 13 June 2011) .spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,768219,00.html>
accessed 3 August 2011. ‘Der Machthaber habe “jede Legimitation” verloren’.
122 ‘Germany recognises Libya rebels as sole government’ BBC News (London, 13 June 2011) accessed
3 August 2011.
123 S Talmon, ‘Recognition of the Libyan National Transitional Council’ [2011] 15 ASIL: Insights. e word ‘recognition’ was not used by Westerwelle.
124 J Dempsey, ‘Germany Ocially Recognizes Libyan Rebel Government’ e New York Times (New York, 13 June 2011)
world/europe/14libya.html> accessed 14 July 2011; ‘Libyan Rebels Push West from Misrata’ Voice of America (Washington DC, 13 June 2011) .
voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Germany-Gives-Diplomatic-Recognition-to-Libyan-Rebels-123756209.html> accessed 1 July 2011.
125 French Ministry of Foreign Aairs (2011) accessed 3 August 2011.
126 Consider the de facto recognition of the NTC by the UK in February 2011. See S Talmon, ‘Has the United Kingdom De-Recognized Colonel Qadha as Head
of State of Libya’ [2011] EJIL: Talk.
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often nd themselves in situations that cannot be left open to consideration or expressions of a mostly political nature;
‘the accompanying violence and the resulting period of unsettlement demand an answer to the question whether the new
government claiming to represent the State is in fact the government of the country’.127 De jure recognition provides this
answer; de facto recognition does not.
3. ‘Capacity’ Recognition
Government recognition is used in dierent ways to express an opinion on the factual situation created by the DFR and on
the degree of willingness to enter into relations with the DFR. A productive way to understand government recognition, as
opposed to using the black-and-white models of de jure and de facto recognition, is to consider the motives of the recognizing
government in acknowledging DFRs. As Brownlie (2008) notes: ‘the distinction between “de jure /de facto recognition”
[…] is insubstantial, more especially as the question is one of intention and the legal consequences thereof in the particular
case’.128 e recognizing government’s motives can collectively be considered to represent its stance towards a DFR. Instead
of deducing the opinions and legal expectations of the recognizing government from the (supposed) form of recognition, it
is more useful to consider the intent and to draw conclusion from this.
A way to deduce the motives of recognizing states and to clarify their desired legal relation is examining what capacity is
accorded to the DFR by the recognizing government. As Talmon (2011) argues: ‘the imperative question in legal terms is
not recognition per se but recognition as what’.129 Talmon goes on to quote Winston Churchill when he stated: ‘one can
recognize a man as an Emperor or as a Grocer. Recognition is meaningless without a dening formula’.130 is holds true
for international relations; governmental recognition in itself is non-specic. One needs context and knowledge of the
recognizing government’s attitude towards the DFR to make meaningful conclusions about the legal eect. erefore, it is
important to understand the capacity in which a DFR is accorded recognition.
Firstly, DFRs can be recognized as being the ‘representative of a people’.131 is accords them the possibility of (basic)
consular relations with the recognizing government and indicates that the recognizing government sees the DFR as a separate
entity from the parent state’s government. is practice does not, however, amount (and is not intended to amount) to any
legal form of governmental recognition. It is simply a statement by a government indicating its willingness to negotiate
with a DFR. It is often used to express disapproval of an old government and the willingness towards a DFR to enter
into negotiations. It can often also be seen as a rst step towards (ocial and legal) recognition, in which the recognizing
government sets out its conditions for possible future recognition de jure. However, this form of recognition has no (legal)
eect on the relationship between the recognizing state and the government of the DFR’s parent state. Again, a state can
have only one government at a time. When Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recognized the NTC as ‘a legitimate partner at
the talks about Libya’s future’,132 this left ‘intact the international legal status of the incumbent Qadda government as the
government of Libya’.133 According to Talmon (2011), recognition of a DFR as the legitimate representative of a people does
hold several advantages for the recognized party:
(1) it legitimizes the struggle of the group against the incumbent government; (2) it provides international
acceptance; (3) it allows the group to speak for the people in international organizations and represent it in
other States by opening “representative oces”; and (4) it usually results in nancial aid.134
ese eects are not legal or binding, but do indicate a willingness to open diplomatic or even (basic) consular relations.
erefore, recognition as representative of a people is useful in clarifying the intentions of the recognizing government
towards the recognized DFR. is makes the practice of de facto recognition obsolete. e form of recognition discussed here
does not require any legal relations of any sort and does not pretend to create any.
Secondly, governments can recognize DFRs in the capacity of representative of their parent state. In doing this, a government
intends to open full consular relations with the new government and to close relations with the old government.135 Moreover,
127 Lauterpacht (n 6) 98.
128 Brownlie (n 14) 91.
129 Talmon (n 123) 1.
130 ibid 2.
131 ibid.
132 D Akande, ‘Recognition of Libyan National Transitional Council as Government of Libya’ [2011] EJIL: Talk 2.
133 Talmon (n 123) 2.
134 ibid.
135 Talmon (n 99) 76. ‘I.e. to have normal government-to-government relations with it as between one sovereign authority and another’.
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it considers the DFR’s capacity to fully represent its parent state and considers its ability to perform all its international rights
and duties. Recognition of a DFR as the representative of its parent state amounts to full (de jure) recognition. As opposed to
the form of recognition considered above, it does have legal implications.136 Following the ‘London Conference on Libya’ in
March 2011, the Libya Contact Group (‘LCG’) was instituted, comprising more than 20 individual governments including
those of the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.137 On 15 July 2011, the group met in Istanbul to consider
its standpoint towards the seated Libyan government under Gadha and the aspiring Libyan government under the NTC.
At this meeting, the LCG:
rearmed that the Qadda regime no longer has any legitimate authority in Libya and that Qadda and
certain members of his family must go. Henceforth and until an interim authority is in place, participants
agreed to deal with the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.138
By collectively issuing this statement, the governments that comprise the LCG seemed to have accorded de jure recognition
to the NTC. Akande (2011) nds that this statement ‘is clear recognition, by members of the Contact Group, of the NTC
as the government of Libya’.139 As the Group regarded the reign of Gadha illegitimate and recognized the NTC as the sole
representative of the Libyan state, this was indeed the case. For some countries, like Germany, this meant a change in their
policy towards the government under Gadha and the NTC as they earlier accorded only de facto recognition to the NTC.
Accordingly, political and legal bonds had to be severed between the Group’s members and the Gadha regime, and opened
with the NTC.
One could argue that considering ‘as what’ DFRs are recognized, is no dierent from using the practice of de facto recognition
versus de jure recognition. When a government recognizes de facto, it seems to recognize a DFR as being a de facto government
(and thus having the capacity of a de facto government). ere are, however, important dierences. First of all, de facto (or
de jure) recognition is in and of itself not the same as ‘capacity’ recognition. As Chen (1951) notes: ‘de facto (or de jure)
recognition is descriptive of the character of the act of recognition’.140 Recognition as having a certain capacity (being the
representative of a people or of the parent state) is ‘descriptive of the character of the thing recognized’.141 Chen continues
by stating: ‘to say that a de facto recognition is recognition as a de facto government is an obvious contradiction in terms’.142
ere are other reasons to prefer the ‘capacity’-method of recognition to de facto (and de jure) recognition.
When a government recognizes a DFR as a representative of a people, it provides clarity in its intentions towards that
regime. It indicates a willingness to negotiate and recognizes the factual existence of the DFR. When a DFR is recognized
as a de facto government, this can be meant as an expression of several diering (sometimes conicting) intentions and
opinions.143 De facto recognition, moreover, does not indicate the intentions of the recognizing state, other than its refusal
to recognize fully. When a government is recognized as the representative of a people, this ambiguity is avoided. e DFR is
simply acknowledged for what it is and the recognizing state expresses its willingness to cooperate with it to a certain degree.
erefore, in examining the reactions of governments to DFRs, the ‘capacity’ methods of recognition are preferable to the
forms of de facto and de jure recognition.
B. Legal Eects of Governmental Recognition
After considering the methods of recognition and their merits, it is necessary to examine the legal eects of recognizing
DFRs. In examining these eects, I will mainly concentrate on the full form of recognition, as this type of recognition has
substantial legal eects (as opposed to other methods of recognition).
1. Declaratory and Constitutive eories
e discourse on the eects of recognition has traditionally been divided between those adhering to a constitutive and those
adhering to a declaratory view. e constitutive view holds that ‘an entity’s very legal existence as part of the international
136 See paragraph IV.B of this essay on the eects of recognition.
137 UK Foreign and Commonwealth Oce, ‘Libya Contact Group: Chair’s Statement’ (13 April 2011)
news/?view=News&id=583592582> accessed 4 August 2011.
138 Turkish Ministry of Foreign Aairs, ‘Fourth Meeting of the Libya Contact Group Chair’s Statement’ (15 July 2011)
the-libya-contact-group-chair_s-statement_-15-july-2011_-istanbul.en.mfa> accessed 4 August 2011.
139 Akande (n 132).
140 T Chen, Recognition (Oxford University Press 1951) 273.
141 ibid 273.
142 ibid 274.
143 Talmon (n 99) 60.
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system is “constituted” by the recognition of the other entities making up that system’.144 In this view, DFRs are eectively
transformed into a state’s government by the actions of other governments. Conversely, those defending a declaratory
standpoint argue that ‘the authority of a new Government exists prior to recognition and the act of recognition is merely a
formal acknowledgement or admission of an already existing fact’.145 Here, the DFR rst acquires a dominant position vis-a-
vis the former government of its state, which is later conrmed or denied by third states. It goes outside of the scope of this
article to consider in full the scholarly debate between supporters of the two theories. It is, however, constructive to use both
views in analyzing recent state practice and discourse. is claries the contemporary eects of government recognition on
the status of DFRs.
International legal personality can be used in considering the contemporary merits of both theories and in clarifying the
position of governmental recognition. If the ILP of DFRs changes after recognition by existing governments (i.e. the DFR
attains a higher level of ILP after recognition), such would evidence a constitutive system. If governmental recognition does
not change the ILP of a DFR, this would indicate a declaratory system. e importance of this consideration lies more in the
change of ILP after recognition than in concluding which of the two systems is more in line with current legal realities. e
actual eects of recognition are more important than the label used to categorize these eects.
Are declaratory views more in line with state practice and contemporary legal reality than constitutive views? As with any
legal consideration on the basis of practice and discourse, it depends on what weight is given to which aspects. As seen in
earlier sections, DFRs have certain rights and duties under international law, providing them with a certain form of ILP. In
this section I will consider whether recognition is required for a DFR to attain full ILP in the international community. In
doing so, it is necessary to consider the eects of recognition in both bilateral and multilateral relations. In this assessment
it is important to realize that once a DFR is recognized as the government of its parent state, this automatically means that
its old government is no longer recognized. is means that recognition not only creates norms, but also severs ties with
formerly recognized governments.
2. Recognition in Bilateral Relations
As argued above, when a government recognizes a DFR, it expresses both the acceptance of the factual existence of the
regime as a state’s government as well as a willingness to enter into diplomatic relations with it in this capacity. As Kelsen
(1941) argues: ‘the recognized community becomes in its relation with the recognizing state itself (…) a subject of rights
and obligations stipulated by general international law’.146 But what exactly changes in the relationship in the instance of
recognition? Which rights and obligations are created between the recognizing and newly recognized governments that did
not exist before? I will mainly consider two practices that are crucial for the day-to-day cooperation between governments:
diplomatic and consular relations. I will also devote special attention to an important ramication of the change in diplomatic
relations in a bilateral context: the acceptance of immunities between the two governments.
Firstly, recognition by a government is an expression of a willingness to have full and unconditional diplomatic relations.
erefore, ‘the recognized [government] acquires the capacity to enter into diplomatic relations […] with the recognizing
State’.147 ese relations are more signicant than those existing after recognition as a representative of a people, or de
facto recognition, and tolerate more than low-level negotiations or basic consular relations. It is, for instance, possible
after recognition for a recognized state to enter into bilateral treaties with a recognizing government; a practice that is not
available before full recognition.148 Aside from the ability to conclude treaties, consular relations are an important aspect of
international diplomatic relations. Consular relations available after recognition dier from those that are possible before
recognition. Consider, for instance, the opening of German oces in Benghazi before Berlin recognized the NTC, compared
to the relations between the UK and the Libyan opposition after recognition. When Germany opened its ‘liaison oce’ in
Benghazi in June 2011, this was done to ‘establish continuous contact with the Interim National Council there and to assist
the German support measures for the population of eastern Libya’.149 is consular representation was, however, one-sided.
e NTC was not given the chance to open similar oces in Germany. Also, Germany at the time maintained consular
144 B Roth, Governmental Illegitimacy in International Law (Clarendon 2000) 124. See Lauterpacht (n 6); Kelsen (n 5).
145 P Menon, e Law of Recognition in International Law (Edwin Mellen Press 1994) 18; See also J Kunz, ‘Critical Remarks on Lauterpacht’s “Recognition in
International law”’ [1960] 44 AJIL.
146 Kelsen (n 6) 608.
147 Menon (n 145) 200.
148 ibid 200. Above I have stated that entering into treaties with (unrecognized) DFRs is possible under some circumstances. is excludes, however, bilateral treaties
on subjects other than administrative or technical subjects.
149 German Federal Foreign Oce, ‘Establishment of a German Liaison Oce in Benghazi’ (12 May 2011)
Laender/Aktuelle_Artikel/Libyen/110512-Verbindungsbuero-Bengasi.html> accessed 8 August 2011.
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relations with the Gadha government, eectively blocking recognition and the possibility of full consular relations with
the NTC. When the UK Minister of Foreign Aairs William Hague expressed ocial recognition of the NTC, however, he
opened the door to consular relations of a status superior to the relations between the Germany and the NTC. In the end of
July 2011, Libyan governmental representatives (under the Gadha government) were told by the UK’s foreign oce to leave
the country. At the same time, the NTC was invited to appoint a ‘new diplomatic envoy’.150 Severing ties with the Gadha
government’s representatives, in concert with the invitation for the NTC to take its place, supposes full and unconditional
diplomatic relations. Similar developments took place after recognition of the Ouattara government during the Ivory Coast
election crisis.151 e relations between the German government and the NTC in June 2011 were of a more rudimentary
nature. Although there are possibilities for relations with non-recognized regimes, these are based mostly on ‘technical or
otherwise non-political’ issues.152 Full consular and diplomatic relations thus seem to require (and are eects of) recognition.
e concept of immunities of state organs and leaders for wrongful acts ‘performed in the exercise of [their] functions’ is
related to the opening of consular and diplomatic relations brought about by recognition.153 e granting of immunities to
the ocials of the new government and automatic retraction of immunities from ocials of the old government potentially
has very serious ramications, because ‘forcible and other measures, not permitted to persons in a private capacity but
licensed where authorized by sovereign authority to further “public order”, may become criminally punishable once the
putative government is displaced’.154 For example, recognition of the NTC in the Libyan situation ended the diplomatic
status of Gadha-appointed ocials.155 is had the consequence that actions by Gadha and his ocials done in an ocial
capacity became punishable by judiciaries other than those of the ICC.156
To conclude, recognition signicantly aects bilateral relations. e recognized government attains new legal rights and
duties vis-a-vis the recognizing government, which in turn means that its ILP has changed in its relation towards the
recognizing government. In this paragraph I have not considered a change in the degree of fundamental rights and duties
in the international system other than that of diplomatic relations and immunities. Some would argue that recognition also
aects other aspects of intergovernmental relations, e.g. the use of force.157 In choosing to only examine diplomatic relations,
I would refer to earlier sections in which I argue that most basic international obligations and freedoms already exist between
DFRs and governments. Recognition is not essential for these principles to apply to international actors, but it is essential to
create ties with the newly recognized government and to sever ties with the old government.
3. Recognition in Multilateral Relations
Recognition in bilateral relations directly aects relations between the recognizing government and the recognized DFR.
When multiple governments recognize a DFR, it not only changes the status between the individual government and the
newly recognized government, but also between the newly recognized government and the recognizing states collectively. For
example, when several (mainly Western) states recognized the Libyan NTC, it aected the relations between all the states in
the LCG and the NTC. Collective recognition seems to be based on majority decisions. Peterson (1997) notes:
If enough [members of the international community] […] do not recognize, then a new regime’s request
for participation is likely to be refused. If only a few refuse recognition while a sucient majority accept the
new regime’s participation, then the non-recognizers have to accept the new regime as a co-participant for
the multilateral activity involved unless they want to withdraw themselves in order to avoid all contacts.158
e eects of recognition in multilateral relations are most signicant in three areas: participation in multilateral treaties,
participation in intergovernmental organizations and the possession of property previously held by the former government.
As indicated above, participation in multilateral treaties is to some degree possible for DFRs. However, this only includes
participation in treaties on administrative and technical issues. Multilateral treaties requiring direct contact between
150 ‘UK Expels Gadda Diplomats and Recognises Libya RebelsBBC News (London, 27 July 2011) accessed
8 August 2011.
151 J d’Aspremont, ‘Duality of Government in Cote d’Ivoire’ [2011] EJIL: Talk.
152 Peterson (n 112) 121.
153 Cassese (n 17) 110. is includes ocial acts of state organs; See also ibid 117.
154 Roth (n 144) 122.
155 Talmon (n 123) 3.
156 ibid 3.
157 Roth (n 144) 122.
158 Peterson (n 100) 123.
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governments are only open to recognized governments. erefore it can be presumed that when a majority of parties to a
multilateral treaty accept a former DFR as a member of the international community (as the new government of an existing
state), it is also accepted as a party to that treaty. e same is true for participation in intergovernmental organizations. Full
participation on a political level should be possible only after recognition by a majority of the organization’s members.159
Another area in which the succession of governmental powers plays an important role is in the control over a state’s assets.
After recognition, control over the state’s assets is presumed to be transferred from the former government of a state to the
newly recognized government. is is especially important since these assets might be frozen during the time in which a DFR
and the government of its parent state are contesting sovereignty. In the case of both Libya and the Ivory Coast, the country’s
assets were frozen while the states’ military were in conict with the DFRs under Ouattara and the NTC.160 e unfreezing
of these assets after collective recognition has tremendous eects for the newly recognized government, as it may concern
large monetary sums.
4. Recognition and International Legal Personality
As observed in earlier sections, DFRs have international rights and duties before recognition as the new government of
their parent state. erefore some argue that governmental recognition has little eect on the status of DFRs and does not
extensively change their legal rights or duties. As Peterson (1983) states: ‘At present […] because the eects of nonrecognition
are relatively narrow, many observers believe that recognition of governments seems to make little dierence’.161 However,
the above has also demonstrated that for full and formal participation in the international community, some degree of
recognition by other governments seems to be needed. e possession of complete and uncontested ILP, bringing with
it rights and duties under international law, seems to emanate primarily from recognition by actors that have previously
attained this status themselves. e 2011 developments in Libya and the Ivory Coast seem to support this notion. It is hard to
contest the enormous inuence of the decision to recognize the Ouattara government by the UN,162 for it seems improbable
that the governmental powers from the Gbagbo government would have been transferred without this recognition. Likewise,
when the NTC attained the status of ocial Libyan government, it was only after collective recognition by major western
powers.163
us, contemporary international law and state practice have produced a system that attests more to a constitutive than a
declaratory view. is being said, I would agree with Roth (2000), who argues that:
the debate between the declaratory and constitutive views of recognition in the end reduces to the old query,
“If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” […] An entity that fullls the legal
criteria for […] governance […] has a valid claim to legal existence, but in the absence of recognition, either
it has no legal existence or else its legal existence is inecacious.164
It seems almost impossible to suggest that any DFR can attain full international legal personality without being recognized
by any government. Only when other governments are willing to have relations with a DFR as a new government is it able
to function in the international community.165
C. Criteria for Recognition
Keeping in mind the eects of recognition, governments use dierent criteria to determine whether to recognize a DFR.
While the exercise of eective control has always been important for recognition, recent development attest to the importance
of other criteria guiding a government’s judgments.
159 ibid 130-137.
160 Akande (n 139) 3; BBC News (n 197). e freezing of these assets was done under the inuence of the UN. When a majority of its (most important) member
states recognize a regime, it may result in the unfreezing of state assets.
161 M Peterson, ‘Recognition of Governments Should Not Be Abolished’ [1983] 77 AJIL 36.
162 UN Doc. S/RES/1975 (2011) 2. ‘e Security Council […] urges all the Ivorian parties and other stakeholders to repect the will of the people and the election
of Allassane Dramane Ouattara as President of Cote d’Ivoire, as recognized by ECOWAS, the African Union and the rest of the international community’.
163 See paragraph IV.A.3 of this essay.
164 Roth (n 144) 129.
165 ibid 129. ‘What is important is that international law operates to protect the interests of an entity only once the entity gains widespread legal (as opposed to
political) recognition by other states. In that sense, recognition is clearly constitutive; beyond that, the debate begins to resemble a discussion of metaphysics’.
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1. Eective Control
Exercise of eective control has traditionally been the primary criterion for governmental recognition. In particular, the fact
that a regime controls the majority of a state’s territory has been regarded as the most important indication of the need to
recognize that regime. Some nd that eective control is not only necessary, but also sucient, to determine governmental
recognition.166 Proponents of this concept argue that ‘if […] confusion among acknowledgement of status, communication
and approval is to be avoided, recognition decisions must be based solely on whether the new government has control of
its state’.167 ey allege, moreover, that recognition based on other considerations and in the absence of eective control is
premature and illegal under international law.168
However, the view that presupposes eective control yields several practical diculties. Firstly, in situations of civil war
or contest between a DFR and the seated government of its parent state, it might be unclear who is in eective control
over the majority of the state’s territory. Also, recognition based solely or mostly on ‘eectivité’ disregards the possibility of
other considerations that might inuence the recognition decision. Furthermore, it favors the rights of the strongest party
in contests over sovereignty, which may not be the most important consideration in a given situation.169 State practice has
indeed proven that while ‘the eective control of a new government over the territory of a state is […] an important guideline
to the problem whether to extend recognition or not […] it was no more than that and in many cases appeared to yield to
[other] considerations’.170 Governments have found it important to be able to base their decisions to recognize DFRs on other
considerations that are sometimes more important than eective control.171 Often, governments rely on the degree of popular
support enjoyed by the regime, or the eect that recognition would have on the stability of the international community.
2. International Stability
International stability and the role of justice and peace often have weight in recognition decisions. e decision to recognize
on account of justice and peace can be based on the nature of the regime itself or for the sake of justice and peace in the
wider, international context. Buchanan (1999) argues that ‘satisfaction of […] minimal requirements of justice is necessary
for recognition’.172 Buchanan understands these ‘minimal requirements of justice’ as being ‘respect for basic human rights,
both within the state and in the state’s interactions with those beyond its borders’.173 Nattichia (2005), on the other hand,
argues for a ‘pragmatic approach’ that supports recognition of regimes ‘if and only if cooperating with them and giving them
international support would be the best means of achieving […] global peace and justice’.174 is approach does not require
the regime itself to ‘satisfy minimal requirements of internal and external justice’.175 While both authors argue that one of
the theories can be disregarded in favor of the other, a combination of both is also possible. Recognition of one regime over
another may be done because that regime is more just in itself and recognition of it would also promote global stability.
Ability and willingness to fulll international obligations by a DFR can also be used as criteria for recognition.176
3. Contemporary State Practice
e situations in 2011 in Libya and Ivory Coast are examples of the fact that ‘eectivité’ is no longer the most important
criterion for recognition. Although regimes might be in partial control (Libya) or not yet in complete control (the Ivory
Coast) over a state’s territory, they are recognized based on other criteria. Recognition of the Ouattara regime, as argued
before, seemed to center around the alleged electoral victory, not the eective control of Ouattara’s forces. As d’Aspremont
(2011) states: ‘ese developments further underpin the […] idea that the “eectivité” of […] governments is increasingly
being outweighed by other parameters – like electoral legitimacy – as the primary criterion to determine the authority
entitled to speak and act on behalf of a State’.177 In recognizing the NTC to the detriment of the Gadha government,
166 Peterson (n 100) 36.
167 ibid 50.
168 Shaw (n 20) 460-462; Talmon (n 123) 4. ‘Any recognition of the NTC as the de jure government of the State of Libya, while Qadda forces are still in control
of the capital, seems premature and would arguably constitute an illegal interference in the internal aairs of Libya’.
169 B Roth, ‘Secessions, Coups and the International Rule of Law: Assessing the Decline of the Eective Control Doctrine’ [2010] 11 Melbourne Journal of
International Law 439.
170 Shaw (n 20) 455.
171 Peterson (n 100) 51.
172 A Buchanan, ‘Recognitional Legitimacy and the State System’ [1999] Philosophy & Public Aairs 46-47.
173 ibid 47.
174 C Naticchia, ‘Recognizing States and Governments’ [2005] Canadian Journal of Philosophy 28.
175 ibid 28.
176 Peterson (n 100) 68-71.
177 d ‘Aspremont (n 151) 5.
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disapproval of the Gadha regime coupled with considerations for justice, peace and stability were given more weight than
eective control. While some argue that decisions of recognition based on something other than eective control are illegal
and premature, recent state practice seems to conrm that factors such as popular support and stability of the international
community outweigh the (possibly outdated) legal principle of ‘eectivité’.
V. Conclusions
e presence of de facto regimes continues to pose challenges to the international community. While their existence cannot
be denied, the extent of their international rights and duties remains open to debate. Moreover, appropriate responses by
established governments in the form of recognition, which is necessary to denitively secure a position in international law,
is not always provided. e position of DFRs is not only a question of legal semantics but also has consequences for those
under the control of the regime (or the seated government of its parent state) and for international stability.
De facto regimes are subjects of international law and possess a certain degree of international legal personality. DFRs have
both rights (e.g. the protection from the use of force), which they can invoke against actors that violate them, and duties
under international law (e.g. IHL obligations), to which they can be held responsible. Still, DFRs are not accorded full
ILP. Governments seem to nd it necessary to express their disapproval of these regimes by not (fully) including them
in international decision-making. Such policies will continue to prevent DFRs from being fully operational international
actors, blocking meaningful cooperation with them and making it impossible to expect their full adherence to international
norms. Only if DFRs are given a meaningful place in the international legal order, i.e. by according them full ILP, can they
be held fully responsible for international standards deemed obligatory for other international actors. According DFRs full
ILP is not just in the interest of other international actors whose rights might be violated, but also the individuals living
under their control. It is only through according DFRs full ILP that ‘the international community will nally lift its rather
hypocritical veil of ignorance and abandon its prevailing reluctance to denounce as well as to impeach de facto regimes, which
defy international (human rights) standards to the detriment of the individual living under de facto subjugation’.178
As of now, a DFR’s only opportunity to be included in the international community is through recognition as the parent
state’s government. It is only after recognition that the DFR attains full ILP as the government of a state. Recognition is only
meaningful in a de jure capacity for precisely this reason. When a DFR is recognized de facto it is recognized as the thing that
it already is, namely a de facto regime, making de facto recognition a pointless exercise and not a legal practice; it is merely an
expression of the political attitude of the recognizing government towards a DFR and its parent state. Because governments,
apparently, nd it necessary to be able to have control over which entity they want to include in their community and with
which group of persons they want to negotiate, governmental recognition is not likely to disappear. It is hoped that in the
future, this practice will be used in a way that creates transparency for all actors involved and will be used more as a legal than
a political practice. e confusion among the general public and government ocials in regards to the recognition of the
NTC as Libya’s ocial government as well as the ousting of Gbagbo in favor of Ouattara should inspire a reconsideration of
the legal practice of governmental recognition and the international position accorded to de facto regimes.
178 Schoiswohl (n 6) 90.
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