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

Glasses before a computerm screen News

Mapping the Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

27 June 2022

Our new Working Paper Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations provides an up-to-date assessment of existing risks and protection needs in light of contemporary and future military cyber capabilities.

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Portrait of Marco Roscini News

Professor Marco Roscini is our New IHL Chair

6 May 2022

Marco Roscini is a leading expert in international law of armed conflict, the use of force in international law, and international cyber security law and has published widely in the field of international security law.

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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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RESEARCHERS

Picture of Marco Roscini

Marco Roscini

Swiss IHL Chair and Professor of International Law at the University of Westminster

Professor Roscini's research areas include the international law of armed conflict, the use of force in international law, international cyber security law, nuclear non-proliferation law, and the history of international law.

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.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

June 2022

Pia Hüsch and Henning Lahmann

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Past Events

Launch Event: Joint Initiative on the Digitalization of Conflict

29 October 2020, 10:00-12:00

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27 January 2022

Eliška Mocková graduated from our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in 2019 and currently works for the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, in one of its field offices.

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Two Alumna Distinguished at the 2022 ASIL Annual Meeting

25 April 2022

Dr Jelena Plamenac and Charlotte Labrosse received prestigious distinctions at the 2022 Annual meeting of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) in April this year.

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Women's Perspectives on a Career in International Law

6 July 2022, 13:00-14:30

In this online event co-organized with the ATLAS Network, prominent women in international law will share their experience and advice through an interactive discussion.

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Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

Spring 2023

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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Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

Spring 2023

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

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Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC)

Started in May 2007

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.

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Implementing International Humanitarian Law Through Human Rights Mechanisms

Completed in April 2019

This project examined how IHL could be more systematically, appropriately and correctly dealt with by the human rights mechanisms emanating from the UN Charter, as well as from universal and regional treaties.

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Cover of the Publication Publication

The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer

published on April 2022

Henning Lahmann

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