Disability and Armed Conflict

Started in May 2016

Background

An estimated 15 percent of the world’s population, approximately 1 billion people, have some form of disability (involving a physical, psychosocial and/or intellectual impairments) a large percentage of which will be living in conflict affect states.

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.

Objective

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.

TEAM

Picture of Annyssa Bellal

Annyssa Bellal

Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law

Annyssa Bellal's areas of expertise include public international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and armed non-state actors.

Picture of Alice Priddy

Alice Priddy

Senior Researcher

Alice Priddy's current main research areas concern the rights of persons with disabilities during and in the immediate aftermath of armed conflict.

Portrait of Giles Duley

Giles Duley

Photographer

Giles Duley is a British documentary photographer and photojournalist. His work has been exhibited and published worldwide in numerous papers and magazines and he has talked about his experiences on television, radio and at several international and national events.

OUTPUT

Publication on Disability and Armed Conflict: A First Study on its Kind

The publication Disability and Armed Conflict brings attention to the devastating impact conflict has on persons with disabilities and, crucially, highlights that many of the 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.

It offers eight key findings and recommendations for states, humanitarian organizations and the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The findings and associated recommendations relate to: the application of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in differing conflict settings, the relationship between the CRPD and IHL, as well as analysis of a number of key IHL norms, including adverse distinction and humane treatment from a disability perspective.

The findings also challenge the miss-conceptions that continue to dominate disability discourse: including incorrect understandings of ‘disability’, the under-inclusive focus on physical and sensory impairment, and prevention of primary impairment being wrongly included within disability-rights.

Ensuring Concrete Changes on the Ground

The project's team conducted training sessions in Palestine, Ukraine and Vietnam, to provide stakeholders on the ground – local organizations of persons with disabilities, state representatives, UN agencies and other international humanitarian organizations – with an overview of international law applicable to persons with disabilities and their inclusion in norms related to the conduct of hostilities.

A Photo Exhibition to Raise Awareness on this Issue

Determined to bring attention to the lives of persons with disabilities living in armed conflict, we have partnered with the photographer Giles Duley to tell the stories of some of those affected by armed conflict.

His photo exhibition, accessible to persons with a visual impairment, told the stories of persons with disabilities during and following armed conflicts including Odai in Gaza, Yasmine in Iraq, Betty in Uganda and Kholoud who fled Syria with her family and now lives in Holland after having spent almost three years in Lebanon.

Publications

Cover page of the publication

Disability and Armed Conflict

April 2019

Alice Priddy

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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NEWS AND EVENTS

Event

Photo Exhibition: Disability and Armed Conflict

6- May 2019

This photo exhibition by Giles Duley tells the stories of persons with disabilities during and following armed conflict

Read more >

View of the cover page of the publication Diability and Armed Conflict News

Our New Publication Addresses the Devastating Impact of Conflict on Persons with Disabilities

May 2019

Our new publication brings attention to the devastating impact conflict has on persons with disabilities and highlights that many of the key international humanitarian law provisions that serve to minimize the impact of armed conflict 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.

Read more >

Group photo of particiants in the training News

A Workshop in Vietnam on How the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Applies to Survivors of the Conflict

February 2019

Our local partner in Vietnam, the Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, hosted a one day workshop as part of our research project Disability and Armed Conflict.

Read more >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Cover page of the Book Event

Book Launch - International Humanitarian Law: Rules, Controversies, and Solutions to Problems Arising in Warfare

May 2019, 18:30-20:00

In this launch event, key experts will comment and dialogue with Professor Sassòli on specific aspects of his new book.

Read more

Two persons walk in the ruins of Aleppo, Syria Current Issues in Armed Conflict Conference

Third Current Issues in Armed Conflict Conference

June 2019, 09:00-17:00

This annual conference, co-organized with the Human Rights Centre of University of Essex, provides a space to discuss the legal and policy issues that have arisen in the past and the current year in relation to armed conflicts situations.

Read more

South Sudan, Warrab. An ICRC information session on the Law of Armed Conflict with soldiers from Warrab State. Project

Armed Non-State Actors and the Human Rights Council

Completed in January 2015

Launched in 2016, this project aimed to identify whether, to what extent and under what circumstances armed non-state actors incur obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights (HR) law.

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Putis, Peru. The clothes of missing child found in a mass grave close to the village at the exhibition organized for the relatives of victimes. The family will be able to identify their missing relatives. Project

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

Started in January 2014

This project, initiated in 2014 by the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law, Professor Noam Lubell, intends to identify, via expert meetings and research, a set of best practices that states should apply when they investigate or examine alleged violations or misconduct in situations of armed conflict.

Read more