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

World Map News

Three Papers Map Contentious Issues Related to the Application of International Law to Military Cyber Operations

22 June 2021

Three new Working Papers – researched by the Geneva Academy in the context of our joint project with the ICRC on the digitalization of armed conflict – address some of the main issues of contention concerning the application of international law to military cyber operations.

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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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Toy soldiers siulating a fight in a context of electronic computer circuits News

Student Essay Competition: Avoiding Civilian Harm during Military Cyber Operations

6 April 2021

The Geneva Academy and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are organizing – in the context of our Digitalization of Conflict joint initiative – a student essay competition open to all undergraduate students from universities (including military academies) anywhere in the world.

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RESEARCHERS

Portrait of Robin Geiss

Robin Geiß

Former Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law at the Geneva Academy and Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)

Robin Geiß has taught, researched and published on a variety of topics related to international humanitarian law, human rights law and the legal and ethical implications of new technologies, and is recognized as a leading expert in these fields.

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.

Past Events

Launch Event: Joint Initiative on the Digitalization of Conflict

29 October 2020, 10:00-12:00

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Professor Marco Sassoli during an IHL class of the LLM News

Apply to our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights!

29 November 2021

Applications for the 2022–2023 academic year of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights are open. They will run until 28 Janllmuary 2022 for applications with a scholarship and until 25 February 2022 for applications without a scholarship.

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Road sign in Palma, Cabo Delgado, Moçambique News

Mozambique: Our RULAC Classifies Two New Non-International Armed Conflicts

30 September 2021

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal classified the armed violence opposing Mozambique to RENAMO splinter groups and the al-Shabab as non-international armed conflicts.

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Logo of the Atlas Network Event

Women's Perspectives on a Career in International Law

14 December 2021, 15:00-16:15

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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Reaper RPAS Aircraft Lands at Kandahar, Afghanistan Event

Emerging Technology and the Future of International Humanitarian Law

9 December 2021, 16:30-18:00

This Military Briefing will discuss the role and evolution of IHL in the context of emerging technologies, and provide insights on how armed forces and governments approach these issues.

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An aerial view of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which have appeared following latest attacks by M23 rebels and other armed groups in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Short Course

International Refugee Law

9 March - 13 April 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, analyses the main international and regional norms governing the international protection of refugees. It notably examines the sources of international refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and their interaction with human rights law and international humanitarian law.

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Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

17 March - 8 April 2022

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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Mine Project

Business, Human Rights and Conflict-Affected Regions

Started in July 2021

This project aims to further identify and clarify policies and practices for States and business, including public and private investors, across the full ‘conflict cycle’ and the ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ pillars of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

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Screenshot of the RULAC webpage Project

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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Cover of the publication Publication

The UN Security Council and Common Article 1: Understanding the Role of Peacekeeping Operations in Ensuring Respect for IHL

published on October 2021

Émilie Max

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