20 January 2020
Émilie Max is a former researcher in international humanitarian law (IHL) at the Geneva Academy. She also works as an independent consultant for international NGOs based in the Middle East.
I have a dual background in law (national and international) and Middle-Eastern studies. I have worked with my own government, national and international NGOs, as well as academic institutions. I notably focused on topics such as detention in non-international armed conflicts, accountability for international crimes committed in Syria since March 2011, and the prolonged occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory.
IHL was offered as an optional course during my undergraduate degree and, as cheesy as it sounds, I simply ‘fell in love’ with it. It felt like a breath of fresh air compared to tax law and fed into my longstanding interest for politics, diplomacy and international affairs.
I was originally more interested in the technical intricacies of the law than in its humanitarian dimension. With my first professional experience came the realisation that the law could be used to uphold fundamental values I strongly believed in. I am still in awe that I can be intellectually challenged while also having some, even if the slightest, positive impact.
People I admire, respect, and have a lot to learn from have also influenced my choice of career. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has believed in and taken a chance on me.
As a researcher at the Geneva Academy, I am in charge of organizing the so-called ‘IHL Talks’, a series of events (about six-seven per year) aimed a debating contemporary and politically relevant issues of IHL. Past editions have for instance addressed the legal status of foreign fighters and their relatives detained in northeast Syria, starvation in non-international armed conflicts, and the impact of counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian action. They target the diplomatic, academic and practitioners’ community in Geneva.
I am also finalizing research into the role of human rights mechanisms in strengthening respect for IHL. Based on the neutral premise that, whether we like it or not, United Nations (UN) mechanisms and (universal and regional) treaty bodies increasingly tackle issues of IHL, the project aims at examining whether criticism towards such tendency is actually warranted, and at identifying potential avenues for maintaining the integrity of both legal frameworks. It also pinpoints key questions deserving of further research.
I am additionally working on two other projects. One, which is at its very outset, examines how the UN Security Council has dealt with IHL and which role(s) non-permanent members of this organ have played in this regard. The other is dedicated to the human rights responsibilities of armed non-State actors.
Finally, I have used my academic freedom to establish a collaboration with the Geneva branch of ATLAS (a network empowering, supporting and connecting women working in or embarking on a career in international law).
In this framework, I co-organize regular public discussions on women’s perspectives on such a choice of career. The first editions successfully took place in June, September and December 2019, and I look forward to those upcoming in 2020.
In different ways, each of the above-mentioned projects aims at demystifying preconceived ideas such as IHL’s inaccessibility to an inexperienced audience or armed non-State actors’ unwillingness/incapacity to comply with humanitarian norms. The projects should also contribute to sketching realistic and feasible policy ideas, or, at least, to challenging the status quo.
In my opinion, the key challenge lies in upholding the legal achievements of the past 70 years (i.e. since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949). It is all about demonstrating the continued relevance, and practicability of this legal framework – and of the fundamental values it embodies – in an era increasingly defiant of the international legal order.
It is also essential to continue fostering meaningful and respectful debate between professionals from various backgrounds (political, institutional, etc.). By virtue of its convening power, the Geneva Academy has an important role to play in this regard.
I am an avid reader and podcast listener, and I adore spending quality time with the people I love, wherever they are.
The 41 students enrolled in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and the 38 enrolled in our MAS in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ) arrived in Geneva for their orientation week.
From 23 to 24 March 2022, the Geneva Human Rights Platform conducted in Grenada, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, its second pilot of a UN treaty bodies (TBs) focused review – designed to discuss how countries implement specific recommendations issued by UN TBs between sessions.
This event of our Geneva Human Rights Platform will discuss the protection of children in international migration on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the adoption of two General Comments by UN treaty bodies.
Conny Schneider, Unsplash
The 2022 Annual Conference will focus on digital connectivity in the field of human rights. This includes a view of the digital connections by and among mechanisms within the human rights system, but also the substantive impacts of digitalization.
This online short course will examine the sources of international humanitarian law (IHL), as well as the threshold criteria for its applicability in an armed conflict
Francisco Proner / Farpa/ CIDH
This online short course aims at presenting the institutions and procedures in charge of the implementation of international human rights law.
This project aims at compiling and analysing the practice and interpretation of selected international humanitarian law and human rights norms by armed non-state actors (ANSAs). It has a pragmatic double objective: first, to offer a comparative analysis of IHL and human rights norms from the perspective of ANSAs, and second, to inform strategies of humanitarian engagement with ANSAs, in particular the content of a possible ‘Model Code of Conduct’.
This research aims at taking stock of and contributing to a better understanding of the above-mentioned challenges to the principle of universality of human rights while also questioning their validity. It will identify relevant political and legal arguments and develop counter-narratives that could be instrumental to dealing with and/or overcoming the polarization of negotiations processes at the multilateral level.