The Geneva Academy in 2023: 10 Things to Watch

13 February 2023

2023 will be a busy year for us.

Discover what we are up to and some topical issues we will address and work on via our research, Geneva Human Rights Platform and master’s programmes. And stay tuned for exciting outputs!

1. Unpacking the Role of Open-Source Information to Monitor IHL and Human Rights Violations

Open-source information – satellite images, social media posts, information published by governments, and content made available on information-sharing platforms – is transforming the way violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are documented, investigated and prosecuted.

Such data significantly increases the available evidence and helps investigators overcome long-standing challenges around site access, evidence contamination and obtaining witness testimony. However, it also raises fundamental questions for the administration of justice, the management of data, and impacts on the humanitarian space.

Our research aims to identify the challenges and opportunities that arise from an increased reliance on open source information in accountability processes and to close the information gaps currently faced by UN human rights mechanisms, tribunals and courts.

Building on an expert meeting held at the end of last year, we will publish a paper that addresses the main challenges and opportunities that arise from an increased reliance on open source information in accountability processes, notably within UN human rights mechanisms.

2. Travelling to the Pacific for the Last UN Treaty Bodies Follow-Up Review Pilot

After Sierra Leone and Grenada, the last pilot follow-up review will take place this summer in the Pacific region.

This series of three pilots – conducted by our Geneva Human Rights Platform – allows testing the potential contours of regional-level follow-up reviews – a new format that would take place between UN treaty bodies (TBs) reporting cycles and would bring TBs closer to the field and national realities.

The Pacific pilot will be carried out in partnership with the Pacific Community and the Commonwealth Secretariat and will build on the previous pilot reviews. It will link up with the mission that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will carry out in the region to look at the implementation of its official session that took place in Samoa back in March 2020.

Lessons learned, best practices and recommendations will be compiled in a final report – providing key information to TBs for the development of this new innovative format.

3. Preparing our Students for a Career in the Humanitarian and Human Rights Fields

We have since last year dedicated staff to develop our masters’ professionalizing activities and prepare our students for a career in the humanitarian and human rights field.

Students enrolled this academic year in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law benefit from an increased and diversified offer of internships during the second semester with more than 30 human rights, humanitarian and transitional justice actors.

Our new Coordinator of Professionalizing Activities also accompanies students throughout the year by providing one-to-one career advice and counselling, group sessions that provide general advice on seeking employment and planning a career, exchange sessions with alumni about career paths in international organizations, NGOs, government or academia, access to job offers, as well as soft skills training.

4. Accompanying the Human Rights Council’s Greater Engagement in Responding to Threats to International Peace and Security

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) is increasingly leveraging its flexible operating structure to fill gaps in the peace and security architecture left by the UN Security Council (UNSC). As demonstrated by its establishment of an Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Ukraine, the HRC currently offers some of the international community’s most powerful tools for encouraging parties to a conflict to reflect on issues of human rights and international humanitarian law. Importantly, this organic evolution does not require a reform model or UN Member States’ assent.

Our research will evaluate the potential of this development and examine the related trends, effectiveness and risks. We will also consider how the HRC can be strengthened to play this role effectively and pragmatically, and in a manner that will not lead to a diminution in cooperation with other peace and security fora.

5. Moving to New York for a Human Rights Week at UN Headquarters

After four editions in Geneva, the 2023 Annual Conference of our Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) will move to New York and address the connectivity between Geneva and New York in the field of human rights.

Conceived as a GHRP Human Rights Week at UN Headquarters, the 2023 conference will consist of a series of linked but stand-alone events – crafted for different audiences – on the many contributions coming from International Geneva and their relevance for the New York debates.

This intense week will also provide diplomats with a snapshot of the topics they will negotiate at the UN General Assembly 3rd Committee.

6. Clarifying the Relationship between Conflict, Security and the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

Last year, in a landmark resolution, the UN General Assembly recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. These developments have sat in parallel with a growing consensus that environmental rights abrogation can drive conflict and threaten peace and security. Such causal relationships, however, have not been sufficiently integrated into multilateral policy debates and decision-making processes.

Our research will develop guidance to inform security, human rights and environmental debates on the linkages between environmental rights and conflict, and how their better management can serve as a tool in conflict prevention, resilience and early warning.

Homing in on six country hotspots for environmental conflict spillovers, we will identify entry points for engaging at the UN Human Rights Council and UN Security Council, as well as strategies to overcome challenges to policy uptake.

7. Enriching our Training Offer with a Course on Business and Human Rights

The Training Hub of our Geneva Human Rights Platform offers, as of this year, a new training course on business and human rights. With a focus on the most efficient human rights mechanisms – at national and international levels – to promote and protect human rights in the private sector and address corporations’ human rights abuses, this new course will be of particular interest to practitioners from NGOs, National Human Rights Institutions, UN field presences, and governmental agencies.

Other 2023 novelties include also a new course on the monitoring of and development of strategies to implement international human rights standards at the national level.

8. Addressing the Challenges brought by the Digitalization of Armed Conflict

New military technologies are transforming the nature of modern warfare, raising a legitimate concern that existing laws and regulations will be ‘outpaced’ by technological advancement, widening the scope for rights abuses and impunity.

Under the leadership of our Swiss IHL Chair Professor Marco Roscini, our research aims to identify specific humanitarian threats and legal lacunae resulting from new military technologies and develop pragmatic law and policy responses.

We will produce guidance on contemporary challenges that arise in the digitalization context, including cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons, space wars and the military application of neurotechnology.

9. Using Digital Human Rights Tracking Tools and Databases for National Monitoring and Implementation

The introduction of innovative digital tools and databases in the last decade facilitated a more holistic approach to the monitoring and implementation of international human rights recommendations.

These new tools have today the potential to address the many implementation and monitoring challenges encountered at the national level – the increasing number of recommendations emanating from various UN bodies, the countdown to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), competition with other national priorities, and difficulties to track progress and access to data.

To accompany these promising developments and deliver their full potential, our Geneva Human Rights Platform will document best practices and challenges, publish an online resource page, and bring again together stakeholders to share expertise, experiences as well as the potential for improvement.

10. Possible Third Party Intervention in the ECtHR Case Ukraine v. Russia (X)

Along with 23 governments, the Geneva Academy – via its IHL Expert Pool – requested in 2022 to intervene as a third party in the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning the case of Ukraine v. Russia (X) (application no. 11055/22).

This inter-State case concerns the Ukrainian Government’s allegations of mass and gross human rights violations committed by the Russian Federation in its military operations on the territory of Ukraine since 24 February 2022.

If called upon by the Court to submit a third-party intervention, we will provide an informed and balanced analysis of several, crucial issues raised by that case, including the extra-territorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the attribution of conduct and its interaction with the questions of establishing jurisdiction and classifying armed conflicts, the relationship between the ECHR and the international legal prohibition on the threat or use of force, and the interplay between the ECHR and IHL.

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