The Digitalization of Armed Conflict

Started in September 2020

Context

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.

Objectives

Under the leadership of our new 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.

The joint initiative on humanitarian impact and protection, carried out with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), assesses the continued relevance of IHL in a digitalization context in order to develop law and policy recommendations aimed at mitigating the identified risks and addressing new protection needs. 

Parallel research on disruptive military technologies assesses the impact – and related protection needs – of new military technologies that shape the future digital battlefield in relation to cyberwarfare, cybersecurity and emerging military applications of AI.

NEWS AND UPCOMING EVENTS

Panelists at the expert meeting News

Rising Civilian Involvement in Cyber Warfare: Legal Implications and Solutions Explored during Expert Meeting

20 October 2023

Our recent expert meeting, conducted in collaboration with the ICRC, addressed the growing involvement of civilians in cyber and digital operations during armed conflicts.

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Glasses before a computerm screen News

Mapping the Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

27 June 2022

Our new Working Paper Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations provides an up-to-date assessment of existing risks and protection needs in light of contemporary and future military cyber capabilities.

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Cable network photo News

Assessing the Impact of Novel Technologies for Humanitarian Protection in Armed Conflict

10 May 2022

Our new Working Paper provides an overview of the various novel technologies that together form part of the ‘future digital battlefield’ and assesses some of the implications they have for humanitarian protection in armed conflict.

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RESEARCHERS

Picture of Marco Roscini

Marco Roscini

Swiss IHL Chair and Professor of International Law at the University of Westminster

Professor Roscini's research areas include the international law of armed conflict, the use of force in international law, international cyber security law, nuclear non-proliferation law, and the history of international law.

Portrait of Anna Rosalie Greipl

Anna Rosalie Greipl

Researcher

Her areas of expertise include international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international human rights law, and the challenges raised by new technologies – in particular artificial intelligence – in these fields of international law.

OUTPUT

Assessing the Societal Risks and Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

Our working paper Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations provides an up-to-date assessment of existing risks and protection needs in light of contemporary and future military cyber capabilities. Based on two expert workshops and four other consultations with individual experts held in 2021, the paper identifies the risks, humanitarian consequences and protection needs for conflict-affected populations during cyber operations, assesses whether IHL adequately addresses these and formulates specific legal and policy recommendations to mitigate risks and address protection needs.

Assessing the Implication of the ‘Future Digital Battlefield’ for Humanitarian Protection

Our working paper The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer provides an overview of the various novel technologies that together form part of the ‘future digital battlefield’ and assesses some of the implications for humanitarian protection in armed conflict. Based on an expert workshop conducted in 2021, the paper identifies areas that need further attention – thus framing the future research of the project – and hints at possible legal solutions.

Mapping Contentious Issues Related to the Application of International Law to Military Cyber Operations

Three working papers published in 2021 map the contentious issues related to the application of IHL to military cyber operations in relation to the protection of societies, the protection of the global information space and the protection of data. By identifying the applicable law and challenges, they lay the groundwork for future research in these areas. The main findings and key points developed in these papers have been presented by the authors in leading international law journals and blogs.

Hearing from the Younger Generation

An undergraduate student essay competition co-organized with the ICRC on the technical, policy and legal measures that states should put in place to avoid, or at least reduce, the risk of civilian harm from military cyber operations during armed conflicts enabled the younger generation to contribute ideas on ensuring the continued relevance of IHL in these contexts. The winning essay, ‘Digital Safe Havens: Sheltering Civilians from Military Cyber Operations’ – written by Isabelle Peart – adapts the little-known concept of demilitarized zones to the cyber context and makes a compelling argument for the establishment of international digital safe havens.

Publications

Cover of the publication

Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

June 2022

Pia Hüsch and Henning Lahmann

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the Publication

The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer

April 2022

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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cover of the publication

PROTECTING SOCIETIES: ANCHORING A NEW PROTECTION DIMENSION IN INTERNATIONAL LAW IN TIMES OF INCREASED CYBER THREATS

February 2021

Robin Geiss and Henning Lahmann

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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cover of the publication

Protection of Data in Armed Conflict

February 2021

Robin Geiss and Henning Lahmann

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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cover of the publication

Protecting the global information space in times of armed conflict

February 2021

Robin Geiß and Henning Lahmann

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Past Events

Towards Greater Accountability with Open-Source Information

14 December 2022, 18:30-20:00

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Cyber Operations, Armed Conflicts and International Law

23 June 2022, 17:30-18:30

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Launch Event: Joint Initiative on the Digitalization of Conflict

29 October 2020, 10:00-12:00

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ESIL Lecture: Disruptive Military Technologies

26 February 2020, 14:00-16:00

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MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

An LLM class News

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

27 November 2023

Applications for the 2024–2025 academic year of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights are open. They will run until 26 January 2024 for applications with a scholarship and until 24 February 2024 for applications without a scholarship.

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Yemen,  Sana'a, Faj Attan. Damages to civilian buildings following the fighting. News

A Yearly Global Assessment of IHL Compliance

8 February 2024

We are excited to announce the launch of a new project consisting of the publication of a yearly global annual report assessing compliance with international humanitarian law in contemporary armed conflicts.

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Logo of the Atlas Network Event

Women's Perspectives on a Career in International Law: Navigating Humanitarian Negotiations

7 March 2024, 12:30-13:30

This event, co-organized with the ATLAS network, will feature women with diverse experiences and career paths in international law, specifically emphasizing their involvement in humanitarian negotiations.

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Event

Launch – International Humanitarian Law Rules, Controversies, and Solutions to Problems Arising in Warfare, 2nd Edition

28 March 2024, 12:30-14:00

In this launch event, key experts will comment and dialogue with Professor Sassòli on specific aspects of the book, including naval warfare and the law of neutrality, sources of IHL, IHL and human rights, as well as the classification of armed conflict

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Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

25 April - 17 May 2024

This online short course discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

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Neutrotechology Project

Neurotechnology and Human Rights

Started in August 2023

This project addresses the human rights implications stemming from the development of neurotechnology for commercial, non-therapeutic ends, and is based on a partnership between the Geneva Academy, the Geneva University Neurocentre and the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. 

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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 Page of Research Brief Publication

Environmental Human Rights as a Tool in Early Warning and Conflict Prevention The Role of the Human Rights Council

published on January 2024

Erica Harper, Baïna Ubushieva

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Cover page of the publication Publication

Delivering the Right to Peace: Towards a Reinforced Role of the Human Rights Council in the UN's Peace and Security Framework

published on October 2023

Erica Harper, Adam Day

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