Promoting civilian rights worldwide

Developing the practice of civilian rights

The high civilian death toll in today’s conflicts appears to demonstrate how little the international legal order has to offer to civilians at risk. Yet both international humanitarian law and the law of human rights establish a series of rights that, at least in theory, are intended to protect civilians. But which law or laws apply in a given situation and what are the obstacles to their implementation? How can the law assist civilians injured by new methods of warfare, such as drone strikes, or targeted by new forms of military organisation, such as transnational armed groups? How can practical obstacles be overcome that currently prevent civilians from claiming their rights?

Expanding civilian-led monitoring

Lessons learnt from Ceasefire’s work in Iraq and Syria have been included in our major recent report ‘Eyes on the Ground: Realizing the potential of civilian-led monitoring in armed conflict’, and an accompanying documentary film. This report assesses the global state-of-the-art in monitoring, fact-finding and documentation and in particular evaluates the increasing role of civilian activists and new technologies.

Read the report here.

What is the best way to expand support for civilian-led monitoring to other country situations and world regions? The recommendations of the report draw on an expert seminar that took place in Geneva in June 2017, bringing together NGO leaders pioneering civilian-led monitoring in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other armed conflicts with senior representatives from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, Geneva Call, the Institute for International Humanitarian Law, academic and civil society experts and governments with an interest in promoting the implementation of international humanitarian law.

But while monitoring and documenting violations is an essential step, it is not by itself enough to deliver real protection for civilian rights.

Protecting civilian rights

A recent conference of states convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross referred to an institutional vacuum in the area of international humanitarian law implementation. Can the implementation gap be filled by the growing but sometimes controversial use of human rights courts to remedy violations of the laws of armed conflict, or by proposals for new instruments or mechanisms of civilian legal protection?

Ceasefire is working with a number of UN special rapporteurs, distinguished international jurists and leading litigators to produce a major collection of essays examining key legal questions in civilian rights in the grey zone between human rights and the laws of war. These include state obligations to investigate civilian casualties, defining non-combatants, legal safeguards on killing and detention, an assessment of current remedies and an analysis of proposals for new mechanisms of civilian legal protection. The volume is published by Hart/ Bloomsbury in 2018; more information is available here.

SianPromoting civilian rights worldwide