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Support to Nonviolent Protest Movements and International Law

About the Project:

Nonviolent protest movements are on the rise, both numerically and in terms of scholarly attention. Within the social sciences, recent publications have scrutinized the reasons and conditions for the success of nonviolent campaigns. Among the identified factors, support by foreign states figures prominently. Particularly the European Union and the United States have increased their support to nonviolent campaigns throughout the last decade.

This development prompted the response of states faced with nonviolent protests. In their view, support to these movements violates their sovereignty and is therefore prohibited by the customary international law principle of non-intervention. International law indeed traditionally defers questions of governance and internal struggle to the sovereign sphere of a state. In line with this reasoning, the International Court of Justice condoned the United States in its 1986 Nicaragua decision for violating the principle of non-intervention by supporting the so-called “Contras”.

However, international law has changed significantly since 1986. With the rise of democracy in international law and the strengthening of international human rights law, the limits of the principle of non-intervention have shifted. Moreover, the Nicaraguan “Contras” were engaged in an armed resistance against the government in Nicaragua. To date, neither international courts nor intergovernmental organizations have dealt with the question whether support to nonviolent protest movements is permissible.

Therefore, this project will comprehensively analyze the international legal framework concerning international state support for nonviolent protest movements. To this end, it will individually asses the four applicable rules of international law: the principle of non-intervention, the international democratic principle, the freedom of association and the principle of self-determination.

The second part consists of five case studies. State support to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine 2013-14, the Forces for Freedom and Change Revolution in Sudan 2018-19, the Venezuelan protests 2019-2020 and the Hong Kong protests 2019-2020 will be scrutinized with a particular focus on the legal justifications advanced by states. An analysis of the legal discourse on these matters is crucial to identify the legal framework for these measures. By uniting a doctrinal and practice-based approach this research project strives to close the gap in the international legal research.

PhD candidate



  • Kriener, Florian: Gewaltfreie Protestbewegungen als Legitimitätsquelle? Eine Replik. In: ZaöRV 80/4, 881-911 (2020).
  • Kriener, Florian: Nonviolent Movements and the Recognition of Governments: What Implications for International Law?. Minds of the Movement, 2021.