At the heart of any stable society is the law of the land, whereby its citizens adhere and follow the governance they are living in. Rebel Law shifts from civilian space to the role of law and courts on the battlefield as a means and method of warfare by non-state armed groups to seek legitimacy. The book’s main thesis states that the use of law and courts by ‘”insurgents” and “counterinsurgents” is a weapon in its own right. The main theme is “Lawfare”, an old concept understood by actors using law as a tool to justify military projects in warfare.
Ledwidge explains this reality in a compelling way, drawing upon first-hand experience as a lawyer and former justice advisor to the British military operation in Afghanistan. Rebel Law provides contextual examples of how “Lawfare” is used in courts to gain and retain control in armed group territory. By delving into conflicts in Northern Ireland in the 1920s where the IRA took on British power using Republican Tribunals, to “Caliphate Law” by Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Algeria in the 1950’s, Somalia’s Al-Shabaab courts, the Taliban’s application of Islamic law in Afghanistan and the Tamil Tigers judicial system in Sri Lanka – Rebel Law triggers intellectual curiosity on the legal battle that goes on in conflict and post conflict societies.
The book explains how non-state armed groups are simply out-governing the status quo power and providing an alternative justice system to populations eager for a “fair” system. It argues that militaries involved in modern warfare conflicts must incorporate “legal pluralism” in their state projects, to develop an accepted justice system.
Ledwidge begins by referencing my very own lecturer in global law, Professor David Kennedy and his famous book “Of War and Law (2006)”, which is cited widely in the book. By extension, the author’s insight and experience provides real life examples of how law and courts in conflict zones dealing with “insurgency” and “counterinsurgency” is the primary ultimatum war, where state projects and interventions regularly fail.
Ledwidge does not include knowledge on “security and justice” building efforts that occurs behind the scenes in conflict and post-conflict societies, which would have been highly valuable based on the calibre and experience of the author. Military-based legal negotiations by intervening states to incorporate western legal systems and principles – including the planning and codification of local legal rules for constitution making as occurred in Afghanistan and elsewhere – would have provided insight on state-based “lawfare”.
Moving beyond the social contract theory of law and acceptance in society as referenced in Rebel Law, those populations living in what Ledwidge describes as “ungoverned” spaces, may very well be a governed space for others. Ledwidge does not note that the populations in these asymmetric conflict zones may prefer a system contrary to the state provided governance structure, albeit the one being passed over them forcefully. Looking into the different types of jurisprudence available, it is clear that although the book advocates for “legal pluralism”, it does not incorporate or mention the reasons behind the use of a complete different mode of legal theory or framework – such as faith or conviction. Modern state law in brief is positive in nature – being black letter and definitive with statutes and precedence. Whilst other legal traditions which feature in this book may have a plural legal theory mixed with local customs and culture, administered by a judge rather than a statute book – this is a point to note whilst thinking about the intriguing examples provided by Ledgwidge in Rebel Law.
Echoing Ledwidge, in a time when there is not a shortage of conflict analysts, political risk consultants and academics working on “insurgency” and “counterinsurgency”, it’s vital to understand the legal battle that exists on the battlefield. There is little exploration of non-state armed group’s courts and justice in modern warfare making way for Rebel Law to fill this gap. A must read for anyone interested in jurisprudence of armed groups, asymmetric warfare and the unseen legal battle in conflict and post-conflict environments.