Regulating Militias: Governments, Militias, and Civilian Targeting in Civil War

Corinna Jentzsch, Stathis N. Kalyvas, Livia Isabella Schubiger, Jessica A. Stanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


In nearly two-thirds of civil wars since 1989, governments have received support in their counterinsurgency operations from militias. Many scholars predict higher levels of violence in conflicts involving pro-government militias because governments are either unable or unwilling to control militias. This article challenges this view, arguing that governments can and do often control militia behavior in civil war. Governments make strategic decisions about whether to use violence against civilians, encouraging both regular military forces and militia forces to target civilians or restraining regular military forces and militia forces from attacking civilians. In some cases, however, government and militia behavior differs. When a militia recruits its members from the same constituency as the insurgents, the militia is less likely to target civilians, as doing so would mean attacking their own community. Statistical analyses, using new data on pro-government militia violence in civil wars from 1989 to 2010, support these arguments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-923
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 21 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, © The Author(s) 2015.


  • civil wars
  • civilian casualties
  • conflict
  • human rights
  • internal armed conflict


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