This paper is designed to stimulate discussion in the context of the project on the ‘Ownership of Humanitarian Norms by Armed Non-State Actors’. It attempts to outline the legal landscape regarding the international responsibilities of armed non-state actors and addresses issues surrounding engagement with such groups. Much has been written on the need to engage non-state armed groups over humanitarian norms,1 and manuals have been written on how best to go about this,2 but hardly any attention has been given to the existing legal landscape.3 This is understandable at one level. International law is usually seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It is clear that the exclusion of armed groups from the normal treaty-making process and their subsequent inability to become parties to the relevant treaties means that alternative regimes have had to be adopted. At a more abstract level the doctrinal notion that the international legal system has a limited number of ‘subjects’ and that these are primarily states, or the entities that states create, has meant that, not only is international law seen as unpromising, but international law is also seen as inimical or even hostile to the aims of the armed groups at issue: ‘A legal system which treats actors as second-rank citizens should not be surprised that those second-class citizens aim to upgrade their status, and the shortest route to being heard and being taken seriously is through violence’. This paper considers that the traditional approach, which sees international law as excluding armed non-state actors from its list of suitable subjects, is not only unhelpful, but also dangerous. Moreover it will be argued that the time has come for a radical rethinking of these issues as the international legal system itself has undergone major upheavals since the traditional approach first took hold. Most importantly, we have to admit that international law is now concerned with individuals, and that these individuals have international rights and obligations.