Our Students’ Say on Contemporary Humanitarian, Human Rights and Transitional Justice Challenges

22 October 2021

Graduating students of our two full-time programmes – the LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights (LLM) and the MAS in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ) – dedicated their summer to the writing of their LLM and MTJ papers – a key output of both programmes.

In around 20 pages – and under the supervision of a Faculty member – they investigated a subject of special interest to them and deepened their knowledge and expertise through research as well as exchanges with experts, scholars and practitioners.

The writing of these papers – which comes at the end of the programme – is an opportunity for our students to apply the concepts they have learned in class to a specific topic and develop a convincing legal argument around it.

A barometer of Contemporary Challenges

‘I am always impressed by the quality, diversity and originality of the papers, as well as by their relevance. Throughout the years, they have proven to be a very good barometer of the contemporary challenges in the humanitarian, human rights and transitional justice fields’ says Professor Gloria Gaggioli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

‘Reading what the young generation and tomorrow’s decision-makers and leaders have to say on these challenges is refreshing and gives hope that the protection of individuals will remain at the centre of the preoccupations of the international community’ she adds.

LLM Papers: From the Administration of Justice by Armed Groups to Massive Surveillance

The 46 LLM papers delve into specific issues related to international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law, international criminal law and international refugee law, which constitute the backbone of the programme.

Several students discuss in their papers issues related to the environment, including the environmental law obligations of armed groups or the protection framework applying to environmentally induced migration.

Privacy, surveillance and new technologies are also at the forefront of students’ concerns and interests. They notably addressed these themes from the perspective of international criminal responsibility in the context of the use of autonomous weapons, the use of new technologies to document war crimes and mass atrocities, or the limits that human rights standards pose to mass surveillance.

Some papers also explore the responsibility of businesses for IHL and human rights violations, including in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine distribution in the Global South and intellectual property regimes.

Surveillance cameras

Novel Questions

Novel questions addressed in the LLM papers include the rights of transgender persons – notably in relation to detention during armed conflicts –, the universality of IHL, or the protection afforded to cultural heritage by Islamic Law as compared to IHL.

As in previous years, our students also explore and discuss specific armed conflict situations or legal questions like the administration of justice by armed groups, the application of the principle of proportionality to siege warfare, or the criteria used to classify a situation of armed violence as an armed conflict.

‘Most of our students’ topics are at the forefront of the international community’s humanitarian and human rights concerns and discussions. This shows not only the relevance of this research and writing and exercise but also the importance of a legal approach to address these challenges’ explains Professor Gaggioli.

MTJ Papers: From the Digitalization of Peace Processes to the Role of Custom in Transitional Justice

The 30 MTJ papers address specific transitional justice (TJ) issues and challenges as well as specific TJ situations in 15 different countries.

Several students explore in their papers the complexity of peace processes from the angles of refugees’ and women with disabilities’ participation, their digitalization, or negotiation with armed groups and so called ‘terrorist’ organizations. Other topics include the implementation of truth commissions’ recommendations, reconciliation as a key TJ objective, TJ and environmental justice, the role of custom in TJ or reparation for violations committed by extractive industries in armed conflicts.

A majority of papers explore TJ questions arising at the local level – peacebuilding and social media, counter-terrorism measures and TJ, mental health and TJ, or the cooperation with organized crime groups in the search of the missing – in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Ethiopia Hungary, India (Jammu and Kashmir), Kosovo, Mexico, Myanmar, Palestine, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, South Africa, or the United States.

Mexico, Costa Grande, children used to play with wooden weapons, as a way to replicate what they were experiencing.

A Commitment to Change

‘The fact that a majority of our MTJ students discuss, in their paper, a specific country situation, does not only show the diversity of our student body, but also their commitment to change in their respective countries’ says Professor Gaggioli.

‘Many of our students go back, after graduation, to their country or region affected by conflict or political transitions where they work in the judiciary, NGOs, international organizations or governmental agencies where they become real agents of a transition towards sustainable peace’ she adds.

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