Jihad, IHL study on MNLF, MILF and ASG published

A Jihad and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) case study on the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has just come off the press as Monograph No. 2 of the South-South Network (SSN) for Non-State Armed Group Engagement, published on the occasion of the IHL Month of August 2021.


It is authored by RTC Naga City Judge and long-time peace advocate and IHL expert Soliman M. Santos, Jr. who is a SSN associate.


This monograph presents variations in the adherence to Jihad or the Islamic law of war and to IHL as shown in the case of those three major Moro (minority Muslim) rebel groups in the Mindanao region of the Southern Philippines. All three Moro rebel groups profess adherence to Jihad, only the MNLF and MILF profess adherence to IHL.


One might say that Jihad, or Islam as the supreme norm, is a common term of reference for these groups. In this, however, there are variations, just as there are varied interpretations of Islam itself, unlike a more or less uniform interpretation when it comes to IHL.


The MNLF’s adherence to Jihad and IHL is the most undeveloped or unarticulated among the three groups. The MILF has the most conscious, if not the most developed, adherence to both Jihad and IHL. It is an example of the proposition that Jihad is “roughly in harmony” with IHL. The ASG on the other hand rejects IHL as a “Western” term of reference in its extremist interpretation of Jihad. These real-life case variations are thus also an occasion to connect to the broader debate on whether or not Jihad is consistent with IHL, and to what extent is it consistent or inconsistent. More importantly, this monograph would attempt to draw implications from such an analysis for the broader practical work of constructively engaging these non-state armed groups (NSAGs) through terms of reference which they can accept.


This monograph was first published in edited form as “Chapter 23. Jihad and International Humanitarian Law: Three Moro Rebel Groups in the Philippines” in Suzannah Linton, Tim McCormack and Sandesh Sivakumaran (eds.), Asia-Pacific Perspectives on International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2019).


In University of Tasmania Law Dean (former University of Melbourne Law Professor) McCormack’s Introduction to this book, he writes that the Santos chapter “provides an outstanding case study” effectively engaging with two (MNLF and MILF) of the Southern Philippine rebel groups to secure greater compliance with IHL.


Santos is one of those rare and precious beings who spent more time doing than he has discussing. His analysis of different approaches to the Islamist notion of Jihad, of its commonalities with IHL, of commitment to studying and to understanding a non-State armed group’s worldview and to find creative ways to engage that armed group on the basis of the group’s own value-system to promote increased respect for IHL is deeply admirable...


When a person with his experience and his successes is actually achieving what so many others only ever manage to discuss as desirable suggests that IHL needs to be more inclusive of the experiences and the cultural values of non-Western societies, his voice should surely be amplified and taken seriously.


SSN is a young and fledgling region-anchored initiative from the global South which seeks to gather, share, study, develop and promote more effective approaches, instruments and intellectual resources for the constructive engagement of NSAGs. It adopts a Southern perspective in its contextual approach to NSAG engagement and its organizational configuration and culture.


It is now still a small and loose but dynamic inter-regional network of mainly NGO field practitioners with also some academics. It is developing as a specialist vehicle to undertake and assist Southern and internationalist efforts to constructively engage NSAGs in a wide range of issues, such as human rights and IHL, conflict-resolution and peacebuilding, human security and development, democratization and good governance, and the question of terrorism.


SSN Monograph No. 1 on Constructively Engaging Non-State Armed Groups in Asia: Minding the Gaps, Harnessing Southern Perspectives, authored also by Judge Santos, had its second printing in October 2018.


SSN may be contacted, including for copies of its published monographs, through its Mindanao, Southern Philippines-based Focal Point Fred Lubang, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International Southeast Asia (NISEA) with email address fredlubang@gmail.com