In many conflicts around the world, the monitoring of violations is poor or non-existent.
The official commission mandated to investigate grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and serious violations of the laws of armed conflict has in 25 years never been called on to undertake a single investigation.
UN special rapporteurs and other international human rights monitors are routinely denied access to many territories or are prevented from visiting by the security situation. Much of Iraq and Syria have been effectively closed to international monitors for years, as are a growing number of other conflict-affected states.
But that doesn’t mean violations go unrecorded.
During years of work in Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict zones we have been inspired by the courageous efforts of local civilian activists on the ground and the evident influence of their work on both officials and militia leaders, even in apparently chaotic situations. In Syria, civilian activists have become the primary, and in many locations the only, source of reliable information about the effect of the war on the civilian population.
Advances in technology now present a major opportunity. Mobile telephones and internet access continue to spread worldwide, even in failing states, and new apps are being developed to support crowd-sourcing, verification and user security. Ceasefire is developing a system of civilian-led monitoring to ensure that reliable and up-to-date information on violations is made widely available, in a secure manner, from countries or territories where the security situation makes existing reporting inadequate.
Monitoring and documenting violations are necessary for securing rights, but they are not enough. Both international humanitarian law and the law of human rights establish a series of rights that, at least in theory, protect civilians. But the capacity and the standing of civilians to bring claims are very limited.
At Ceasefire we work to remove both legal and practical obstacles facing civilians in accessing justice and securing their rights.
We believe that supporting civilians to claim their rights and promoting their access to existing justice mechanisms, both nationally and internationally, are essential steps to holding perpetrators to account – and preventing future violations.