New Guidance on How to Integrate a Disability Perspective into Military Manuals

28 June 2021

Our new Military Briefing: Persons with Disabilities and Armed Conflict provides guidance to the armed forces on how to integrate a disability perspective into military manuals and the training of their militaries.

Authored by Alice Priddy, it translates the findings of a larger academic research into practical advice and avenues to incorporate this issue into military operations.

‘Today, most publicly available military manuals do not integrate a disability perspective. Ensuring that they do so is a first and essential step to introduce militaries to the topic and ultimately ensure that armed forces do protect and assist persons with disabilities during armed conflicts’ explains Professor Gloria Gaggioli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

‘We are confident that this will help military legal advisers, military personnel in charge of developing training manuals and training modules for the armed forces, as well as those in charge of designing and conducting operations on the ground to integrate this much-needed and mandatory disability perspective’ she adds.

Introducing Militaries to the Topic and Showing What is at Stake

As shown by our larger academic research, key international humanitarian law (IHL) provisions that serve to minimize the impact of armed conflict – such as the proportionality assessment and advanced effective warnings – are not being applied in a disability-inclusive manner, resulting in persons with disabilities being killed, seriously injured or left behind as families flee armed attacks.

This Military Briefing introduces militaries to this topic by exploring the meaning of disability and the incorrect understandings that must be avoided. It provides a brief overview of the impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities before moving to the protections afforded to persons with disabilities under IHL.

‘In doing so, we notably focused on effective advance warnings and the treatment of detainees with disabilities to demonstrate what is at stake when militaries do not take a disability-inclusive approach, and how equality in the application of IHL can be achieved’ underlines Professor Gaggioli

El Fasher: Salahdin Abdurrahman Khissan, a 17-years-old blind student, walks with his stick at the Sudanese Association for Disabled People in El Fasher, North Darfur.

Concrete Recommendations

The paper offers a number of concrete recommendations on specific areas, showing the possibility to integrate a disability perspective into military manuals and military operations.

For example, it details the meaning of ‘accessible warnings’ to persons in the vicinity of armed attacks, and sets our feasible measures regarding the treatment of prisoners of war with disability, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

This Military Briefing was discussed at an online expert seminar co-organized with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Diakonia in March 2021. Insights, in particular from military stakeholders, provided avenues to continue this practice-oriented work via outreach events and targeted discussions with military legal advisers.

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