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.
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- civil wars
- civilian casualties
- human rights
- internal armed conflict