Approximately 500 million people with disabilities live in states affected by armed conflict. Conflict not only renders a person disabled directly, e.g. when a landmine blast amputates a leg, it also inflicts indirect harm since persons with disabilities may face physical and/or communication barriers to accessing emergency information and humanitarian assistance, rendering them more vulnerable to harm and potentially exacerbating a pre-existing impairment. Persons with disabilities are also at higher risk of injury or death during periods of armed conflict, either as specific targets or through insufficient support to allow them to flee the violence. Despite the high number of persons with disabilities affected by armed conflict and the particular support that they need, persons with disabilities are too often the forgotten victims of armed conflict.
This project aims to ensure better protection of persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict and in its immediate aftermath by identifying the legal obligations to protect and assist persons with disabilities during conflict. The project will test three hypotheses, the results of which will provide academic and policy communities, states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, armed non-state actors, humanitarian organisations and persons with disabilities with:
- A previously unavailable and detailed explanation and analysis of legal obligations (under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international refugee law and weapons law) to protect and assist persons with disabilities during armed conflict and its aftermath;
- Previously unavailable information concerning the situation of persons with disabilities during armed conflict and in its aftermath in five case study states - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Palestine, Ukraine and Vietnam
- An explanation and justification of what laws, policies and practices are required to meet the obligation to protect and assist persons with disabilities during and in the aftermath of armed conflict.
For the first time, these hypotheses will be tested by answering a series of research questions in a comparative way. The project’s methodology involves a combination of tailored desk research; field research including interviews of persons with disabilities, their carers and humanitarian personnel; and field workshops to disseminate and test preliminary findings, seek feedback on discrete issues and empower stakeholders. It will involve multidisciplinary applied research, bringing together: legal, policy and medical expertise; experienced researchers; persons with disabilities living in conflict-affected states; and humanitarian personnel engaged in assessing the needs of persons with disabilities in armed conflict and in its aftermath.
The project has been awarded a research grant from the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) and is being undertaken in partnership with Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International), the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, Psychiatric University Clinics Basel, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Legacy of War Foundation.
The first 12 months of the project were supported by Pro Victimis.
The projects findings will be published in autumn 2018.