INVESTIGATING IN SITUATIONS OF ARMED CONFLICT: Law, Policy and Good Practice

A Geneva Academy-ICRC Project

Completed in December 2019

The investigation of death and harm during situations of armed conflict is a key area of humanitarian concern with profound implications for the application of international humanitarian law (IHL). Proper investigation by militaries involved in armed conflict and other domestic authorities is necessary to establish:

  • Whether the relevant IHL rules were applied, and respected
  • Whether appropriate measures and of what kind, should be implemented in case of alleged violations
  • Whether possible failings in IHL application were individual or systemic in nature
  • What procedures should be put in place to prevent or minimize unlawful deaths and destruction in future military operations

A LACK OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

The duty to investigate in situations of armed conflict is implied, but not mentioned directly in international law sources. States tend to rely on their domestic legal frameworks when it is deemed that an investigation is necessary, yet there is little uniformity of practice across states and no agreed international standards by which to assess these domestic procedures. Clearer guidance would appear to be of use in several areas, including: the circumstances that should trigger an investigation, who should carry it out, what its nature should be, the principles that should underpin it, and what an appropriate outcome would be.

IDENTIFYING A SET OF GUIDELINES

This project, initiated in 2014 by the Geneva Academy and joined in 2017 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), intended to identify, via expert meetings and research, a set of guidelines based on law, policy and good practice that states should apply when they investigate alleged violations of IHL in situations of armed conflict.

Research Team

This project was conducted by Noam Lubell, Swiss IHL Chair at the Geneva Academy (2014-2019) and Professor of Public International Law at the University of Essex; Jelena Pejic, Senior Legal Adviser at the ICRC; Kamelia Kemileva; and Claire Simmons.

OUTPUT

Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL: Law, Policy, and Good Practice

Published in September 2019, the Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL: Law, Policy, and Good Practice aim to bring much-needed clarity and support for the conduct of effective investigations into violations of IHL.

The first document of its kind, published by the Geneva Academy and the ICRC in this area addresses, among other things, when an investigation should be triggered, the different types of investigations, and the international principles and standards necessary for an effective investigation in armed conflict.

The text presents a broad framework for the conduct of investigations while taking into account the diverse legal and military systems that exist, as well as the legal and practical challenges that can arise. The 16 Guidelines are each accompanied by a detailed commentary and provide guidance on the different aspects of investigations into violations of IHL, from the early stages of recording information and identifying the incidents that require investigation, through to the structural and procedural aspects of investigative bodies.

The Guidelines are the result of a five-year project initiated in 2014. They are based on extensive research and are also informed by a series of expert workshops and engagement with stakeholders.  They should be an essential tool not only for states aiming to conduct investigations of IHL violations in compliance with international law but also for other actors seeking a more detailed understanding of investigations in armed conflict.

Launch in New York and Geneva

In an event co-organized with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in New York, two of the authors – Noam Lubell and Jelena Pejic – presented the 16 guidelines to a full room of delegates from the UN General Assembly First and Sixth Commissions, UN agencies, and experts.

The two authors also presented the Guidelines to humanitarian professionals, legal experts and humanitarian practitioners during the the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva.

Video of the Presentation of the Guidelines on Investigating Violations of International Humanitarian Law: Law, Policy, and Good Practice

Investigating Violations of IHL Law Policy and Good Practice

Launch of the Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL: Law, Policy, and Good Practice at the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva

Publications

Cover page of the guidelines

Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL: Law, Policy, and Good Practice

September 2019

Noam Lubell, Jelena Pejic, Claire Simmons

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and International Committee of the Red Cross

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NEWS AND EVENTS

News

The UN Secretary-General Refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL

May 2020

In his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violation of IHL, co-published with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Read more >

Conference room full of delegates for the presentation in Nw York of the Guidelines on Investigating violations of IHL News

Launch in New York: Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL

October 2019

In an event co-organized with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in New York, two of the authors – Noam Lubell and Jelena Pejic – presented the 16 guidelines before a full room of delegates from the UN General Assembly First and Sixth Commissions, UN agencies, and experts.

Read more >

Cover page of the Guidelines News

Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL: Law, Policy, and Good Practice

September 2019

These Guidelines aim to bring much needed clarity and support for the conduct of effective investigations into violations of international humanitarian law. They are the result of a five-year project initiated in 2014 by the Geneva Academy and joined in 2017 by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Read more >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

News

The UN Secretary-General Refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL

May 2020

In his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violation of IHL, co-published with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Read more

Group photo of LLM students during their study trip News

Six Intense Days in the Balkans to Grasp with Current Humanitarian and Human Rights Challenges

February 2020

As part of the programme’s annual study trip, students of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Human Rights travelled to Belgrade, Sarajevo and Budapest where they met experts and institutions who work in the fields of IHL, international human rights law and international criminal law.

Read more

The UN Security Council Short Course

Introduction to Public International Law and Subjects of the International Legal Order

2 October - December 2020

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, focuses on the role of public international law in international relations and on international legal persons.

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The International Court of Justice in session Short Course

Sources of Public International Law

8 January - February 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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A wheelchair completely destroyed after the bombing of a civilian area Project

Disability and Armed Conflict

Started in May 2016

This project aims to ensure better protection of and assistance for persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict or its aftermath by identifying legal obligations to protect and assist persons with disabilities during conflict, and the policies and practices required to put these obligations into effect.

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Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Started in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

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Cover page of the Annual Report 2019 Publication

Annual Report 2019

published on May 2020

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Cover of the publication Publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

published on December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

Read more