Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection

Started in September 2020

Context

This project aims to explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law (IHL).

The digitalization of armed conflict is a dynamic process that encompasses the increasing use of digital means and methods of warfare based on a range of rapidly evolving technological developments, most notably in the area of cyber and other digital technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensor systems and robotics. The project considers the effects of these developments individually and in combination with a view to assessing the risks that they entail for conflict-affected populations and ensuring that the legal and policy framework provides adequate humanitarian protection in contemporary and future warfare.

New technologies have a profound impact on how wars are fought. IHL is applicable to all technological developments in warfare. The speed, scale, and transformative impact of today’s extraordinary technological advances and the continuous merger of the physical and digital domains, however, require a constant (re-)assessment whether new means and methods of warfare are compatible with existing IHL rules and whether IHL continues to provide the level of humanitarian protection it is meant to ensure in times of armed conflict.

Objectives

This joint initiative adopts a multi-disciplinary perspective that takes into consideration the interrelated technical, military, ethical, policy, legal and humanitarian aspects to address three overarching questions:

  1. What risks, potential humanitarian consequences, and protection needs for conflict-affected populations arise on the digital battlefield?
  2. Does international law, in particular IHL, adequately address these risks and protection needs?
  3. If not, what recommendations could be developed in terms of law and policy beyond the existing IHL framework to mitigate these risks and address these protection needs?

Partnerships

The ‘Digitalization of Conflict Initiative’ is a joint endeavour between the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss IHL Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. The initiative will move forward in cooperation and close consultation with a broad range of relevant stakeholders from governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector.

NEWS AND UPCOMING EVENTS

World Map News

Three Papers Map Contentious Issues Related to the Application of International Law to Military Cyber Operations

22 June 2021

Three new Working Papers – researched by the Geneva Academy in the context of our joint project with the ICRC on the digitalization of armed conflict – address some of the main issues of contention concerning the application of international law to military cyber operations.

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View of the Gulf of Mexio from the outer space News

Winning Essay Discusses Digital Safe Havens to Protecting Civilians from Military Cyber Operations

17 June 2021

In her winning essay Digital Safe Havens: Sheltering Civilians From Military Cyber Operations, Isabelle Peart brings forward novel suggestions on how to reduce the risk of harm to civilians posed by military cyber operations.

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Toy soldiers siulating a fight in a context of electronic computer circuits News

Student Essay Competition: Avoiding Civilian Harm during Military Cyber Operations

6 April 2021

The Geneva Academy and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are organizing – in the context of our Digitalization of Conflict joint initiative – a student essay competition open to all undergraduate students from universities (including military academies) anywhere in the world.

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RESEARCHERS

Portrait of Robin Geiss

Robin Geiß

Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law at the Geneva Academy and Professor of International Law and Security at the University Of Glasgow

Robin Geiß has taught, researched and published on a variety of topics related to international humanitarian law, human rights law and the legal and ethical implications of new technologies, and is recognized as a leading expert in these fields.

Chiara Redaelli

Research Fellow

Chiara Redaelli's areas of expertise include international humanitarian law, jus ad bellum, and international human rights law.

Portrait of Henning Lahmann

Henning Lahmann

Associate Research Fellow

Henning Lahmann participates in the research at the Geneva Academy on disruptive military technologies.

Past Events

Launch Event: Joint Initiative on the Digitalization of Conflict

29 October 2020, 10:00-12:00

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Portrait of Diego Ruiz Gayol News

Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict: What Alumni Say

19 April 2021

Diego Ruiz Gayol is a Mexican diplomat working at the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN in Geneva where he is in charge of human rights issues. In this interview, he tells about the programme and what it brought to his career.

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View of the Gulf of Mexio from the outer space News

Winning Essay Discusses Digital Safe Havens to Protecting Civilians from Military Cyber Operations

17 June 2021

In her winning essay Digital Safe Havens: Sheltering Civilians From Military Cyber Operations, Isabelle Peart brings forward novel suggestions on how to reduce the risk of harm to civilians posed by military cyber operations.

Read more

Portrait of Dr Helen Durham Event

Opening Lecture – Respect for International Humanitarian Law in the 21st Century: Utopian Dream or Pragmatic Reality?

18 October 2021, 18:00-19:30

Dr Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the ICRC, will address the legal, operational and political imperative of the international community continuing to work towards the application and implementation of IHL.

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 Taliban fighters on a truck in Kabul, August 17 2021 Event

Afghanistan

28 October 2021, 15:00-16:00

This online IHL talk aims at shining light on some of the many legal, political and protection-related challenges stemming from the situation in Afghanistan.

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Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

17 March - 8 April 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.

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The International Court of Justice in session Short Course

Sources of Public International Law

27 October - 8 December 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, looks at the sources from which public international law rules stem and at the entities that are empowered with the capacity of law-making in the international legal order. It aims at enabling participants to develop a global perception of the international normative system.

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Mine Project

Business, Human Rights and Conflict-Affected Regions

Started in July 2021

This project aims to further identify and clarify policies and practices for States and business, including public and private investors, across the full ‘conflict cycle’ and the ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ pillars of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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Computer screen with warning: civilian infrastucture: do not attack Project

Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection

Started in September 2020

This project will explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law.

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

The UN Security Council and Common Article 1: Understanding the Role of Peacekeeping Operations in Ensuring Respect for IHL

published on October 2021

Émilie Max

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