Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan L. Woodward

Subject Categories

International Relations | Political Science


human rights, international humanitarian law, International norms, rebel groups, terrorism


This research demonstrates that rebel groups use international norms in their discourse and echo patterns in the discourse of states and that they do so to promote their own legitimacy at key turning points in their conflicts. Which international norms rebel groups use most frequently is partially determined by the congruence of those norms with their local norms and beliefs and the degree to which a group's internal structure has become more hierarchical and specialized. Two rebel groups are examined in this study over the course of their conflicts: the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The international norms under analysis are human rights, international humanitarian law, genocide, and norms against terrorism.

Rebel groups echo the broad pattern of change in discourse and behavior exhibited by states: as states increasingly turned to human rights discourse and focused on the protection of civilians in conflict during the 1990s, rebel groups did so as well in their discourse. These non-state actors, however, are not merely echoing the discourse from the international level as passive recipients: they adopt international norms into their discourse for strategic reasons, namely to increase their legitimacy with local and international audiences. By tracing the patterns of norm adoption throughout the course of the conflict and matching peaks of fluctuation with events on the ground, this research demonstrates that rebel groups increase the frequency of their use of international norms at key turning points in the conflict, such as during negotiations for ceasefire or peace agreements, and do so to boost their legitimacy. The research examines the effect of two additional variables on the changes in the discourse of the groups: the normative culture of the groups and the internal hierarchical structure. Findings demonstrate that the normative culture of a rebel group partially determines which international norms are adopted by the group and that a precondition of a high level of internal hierarchy is necessary before a group echoes international norms consistently.