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Rebel Governance Conference


Contemporary rebel groups face common problems involving civilians living in areas they control. Among these is civilian governance, which can be defined as the creation of organizational structures to regulate civilian social and political life within a specific territory. The Program on Order, Conflict and Violence hosted a conference on Rebel Governance that aimed at exploring the characteristics, causes and consequences of these structures.

The conference brought together speakers from the US, Latin America, Europe, and India, from different disciplines including political science, sociology and anthropology. Drawing on recent conflicts from across the globe, participants looked inside specific rebel organizations while situating them within their broader comparative and historical contexts. The range of cases included rebels and pro-state militias operating in Indonesia, Colombia, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Kosovo, India, and Pakistan.

Discussions revolved around different questions related to the behaviors of non-state armed groups and their relations with civilians, the state, and the international system. Overall, the conference offered insightful theoretical discussions and rich empirical evidence on the following questions: Why do some rebel groups become governors in the areas they control, performing the role of states—such as providing public goods and administrating justice? Why do others opt for raiding civilians while abstaining from becoming rulers in this broad sense? What role do contextual factors such as natural resources, local institutions, culture, and symbolic authority play in shaping civilian-combatant relations? How does the international system affect rebel groups’ treatment of civilians? How do different structures of governance co-exist?

The wide range of cases explored, together with the interdisciplinary nature of the discussions, allowed for a rich debate not only about how rebel groups behave, but also about what these behaviors can tell us about broader questions on power, governance, war, and social change.