Ten Years, Ten Milestones!

Villa Moynier, Headquarters of the Geneva Academy Villa Moynier, Headquarters of the Geneva Academy

This year, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary – a perfect time to take a look in the rearview mirror at the milestones we have passed. While there are many achievements we could highlight, we have selected our top ten to match our age!

1. Creation of the Geneva Academy – 20 September 2007

Creation of the Geneva AcademyTo contribute to the emerging pool of high-level expertise in international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) in Geneva, the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported the creation of the Geneva Academy as a joint centre of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

Directed by Professor Andrew Clapham, who was joined a few years later by Professor Paola Gaeta as Co-Director, the Geneva Academy was the successor of the University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (CUDIH).

For the first time, situations of armed conflict were considered from the perspective of five branches of international law that were usually studied separately – IHL, IHRL, international law on the use of force, international criminal law and international refugee law – via postgraduate education, academic legal research and policy studies, training courses and expert meetings.

 2. First Henri Dunant Research Prize at the Geneva Academy – April 2008

Henry Dunant Research Prize 2008

The first Henri Dunant Research Prize at the Geneva Academy was awarded in April 2008 to Stéphanie Bouchié de Belle for her thesis ‘Human Shields in International Humanitarian Law: An Analysis’.

Before the creation of the Geneva Academy, three Henri Dunant Research Prizes had been granted to graduates of the University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (CUDIH), our predecessor.

The Henry Dunant Research Prize is presented annually as part of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights to a member of the graduating class for an original and didactic LLM paper that deepens, strengthens and renews the ideals and commitment of Henry Dunant. Through this, the Henry Dunant Prize Foundation and the Geneva Academy motivate young people to disseminate knowledge on international rules that protect victims of armed conflict and states of emergency.

 3. Inauguration of Villa Moynier – October 2009

Inauguration of Villa Moynier

In October 2009, an inauguration ceremony marked Villa Moynier’s renovation, which was carried out thanks to the joint efforts of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the City of Geneva.

The villa was given to the Graduate Institute to house the Geneva Academy and another joint programme of the Graduate Institute and the University of Geneva, the Geneva LLM in International Dispute Settlement (MIDS).

Built between 1846 and 1847, Villa Moynier was the property of Gustave Moynier, the first President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It later housed the League of Nations in 1926 and served as the headquarters of the ICRC between 1933 and 1946.

Today, Villa Moynier houses our research, Student Office, teaching assistants, administrative staff, events, training and some of the classes for our three Master’s programmes.

 4. Signing of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers – November 2010

Signature of International Code of Conduct for Security Providers

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICoC) is the result of an active collaboration between members of the private security industry, the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces and the Geneva Academy.

It aims to promote respect for international law and standards among private service providers by clarifying international standards for the industry, and to improve their oversight and accountability. Its monitoring and governance mechanism, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers’ Association (ICoCA), is based in Geneva.

Throughout the drafting process of the ICoC, the Geneva Academy provided academic expertise to ensure that international legal standards were appropriately reflected in the document.

On 9 November 2010, 58 private security providers signed the ICoC. Today, 103 companies are members of the ICoCA and therefore formally committed to operating in accordance with the ICoC.

5. First Research Project on Armed Non-State Actors – January 2011

10 Milestones Armed Non State Actors

The majority of contemporary armed conflicts involve armed non-state actors (ANSAs) and are characterized by an increase in violence against civilians by both states and ANSAs. In this context, we have been conducting research on the legal and policy issues surrounding engagement with ANSAs since 2009 with a view to enhancing the protection of civilians.

Our first research on this topic was published in 2011. Rules of Engagement: Protecting Civilians through Dialogue with Armed Non-State Actors proposes ten ‘policy rules’ that notably call for a greater and systematic engagement with ANSAs as well as a clarification of the legal framework applicable to these actors. It also suggests the development of a model international code of conduct to explicitly apply to the behaviour of ANSAs. This three-year study took into account the feedback of academics, governments, international and non-governmental organizations as well as ANSAs themselves and was cited by the UN Secretary-General in his 2010 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The Secretary-General relied on our research findings to explain the different incentives influencing ANSAs to better respect international law.

We then went on to explore the reactions to norms of more than 30 armed groups worldwide. This research led to the publication in January 2014 of Reactions to Norms: Armed Groups and the Protection of Civilians, which analyses normative policies of ANSAs relating to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and other situations of violence.

In December 2016, in an effort to contribute to the clarification of the legal framework applicable to ANSAs, we published Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council. This addresses the controversial issue of human rights obligations of ANSAs and makes specific recommendations, in particular with regard to the resolutions negotiated at the Council that deal with ANSAs. In addition, the study calls for more research on the content of the possible human rights obligations applicable to ANSAs, also taking into account their views on the matter.

With this in mind, we started a new research project in 2017 – ‘From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms’. The project, a follow-up to the three preceding studies, is being conducted in collaboration with the NGO Geneva Call, and has a pragmatic double objective: first, to provide a comparative analysis of IHL and human rights norms from the perspective of ANSAs; second, to inform strategies of humanitarian engagement with ANSAs, in particular the content of a possible model code of conduct on IHL and human rights norms. It is foreseen that the results of this research will be presented in 2022.

6. Launch of the Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict – September 2011

Launch of Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict

The Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict was launched in September 2011.

This programme, which complements our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, is tailored to professionals – diplomats, legal advisers and professionals working in emergency situations who are active within the UN, other international organizations and NGOs.

Designed to enable participants to gain a professional understanding of the laws of war and how to apply them in complex contemporary contexts, it has trained more than 60 professionals to date and welcomed a new class of 23 participants in October 2017.

Besides our Executive Master, professionals can attend our short courses, training courses or Spring School, which cover a wide range of issues like the International Criminal Court, international refugee law, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of peasants, leading in the Human Rights Council or gender in transitional justice.

 7. First Publication on UN Human Rights Mechanisms – December 2012

10 Milestones UN Human Rights Mechanisms

As a human rights hub, Geneva is home to all UN human rights mechanisms. We support their work through specific projects by providing reflection on their functioning, and offering platforms for discussion of current and future challenges.

We began in 2008 with the launch of the Swiss initiative, Protecting Dignity: An Agenda for Human Rights, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Panel on Human Dignity examined eight topics as priority areas for further research and action, including the idea of a World Court of Human Rights.

Since 2010, we have developed several research projects looking into the functioning of UN human rights mechanisms and issues such as universality in the HRC, armed non-state actors in the HRC, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the situation of women’s rights 20 years after the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.

Our first publication on UN human rights mechanisms, The Independence of UN Human Rights Treaty Body Members, analyses the composition and membership of UN treaty bodies and formulates a series of subsequent recommendations.

Our human rights platforms – Current Human Rights Challenges, the Treaty Body Members Platform and Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020 – address topical human rights issues. Informed by our research, they provide a critical and scholarly forum to develop new ideas and collaborations.

8. Cycling for a Scholarship from Geneva to Solferino – August 2014


In the last week of August 2014, after several months of intense training in the Geneva countryside, three Geneva Academy alumni – Jean-Baptiste Maillart, Ilya Nuzov and Stephen Wilkinson – embarked on a five-day bicycle journey from Geneva to Solferino, the birthplace of international humanitarian law.

Following in the footsteps of Henry Dunant, they cycled 650 kilometers through the Alps, aiming to raise enough money for a LLM scholarship. Mission accomplished: they raised 15,000 Swiss Francs! In total, 115 people from 39 different countries donated, most being alumni of the Geneva Academy.

Three years later, in July 2017, three LLM students – Alexis Comninos, Elena Engelke and Giovanni Papotti – decided to take up the challenge and embark on the very same journey. Like their predecessors, they aspired to raise funds for an LLM scholarship. Alexis, Elena and Giovanni left Geneva on Friday 28 August and reached Solferino three days later on Monday 31 August after five flat tyres and 10,000 meters of elevation!

9. Launch of the Master of Advanced Studies in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law – September 2016

10 Milestones Launch of Master in Transitional Justice

In September 2016, we launched our Master of Advanced Studies in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ). This one-year unique and innovative programme combines high-level academic education and real-world practice in the field of transitional justice. One of the very few courses on this subject, it focuses on an expanding field where there is a strong need for well-trained professionals.

The first class comprised 27 students from a variety of backgrounds and countries, many of which have a recent history of political oppression or armed conflict. The 2017–2018 class has just begun and has 32 students.

Organized around a vibrant, intimate and multicultural community of talented students, leading professors and key experts, the MTJ is already a point of reference for those wanting to gain a solid theoretical and practical legal background in the field of transitional justice.

10. Launch of an Updated Version of the Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC) Online Portal – February 2017

Rule of Law in Armed Conflict RULAC online portal

RULAC is our oldest research project. It began in 2007 as a global database dealing with the implementation of international law in situations of international and non-international armed conflict.

In February 2017, we launched a revised and updated version of RULAC. Using the definitions and criteria provided by international humanitarian law, the new RULAC focuses on the identification and classification of armed conflicts. This version notably provides a map allowing visitors to search for armed conflicts and parties to these conflicts via multiple filters. It provides information about:

  • The definition and categories of armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL)
  • The legal framework governing armed conflicts
  • Whether a situation of armed violence is an armed conflict pursuant to IHL criteria
  • Parties to these armed conflicts
  • Applicable IHL


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