International humanitarian law (IHL) — the body of norms that regulate armed conflicts — does not set out effective mechanisms to ensure compliance. This structural flaw prompts more and more victims of IHL violations to turn to other fora in order to facilitate implementation of IHL and/or obtain reparation for breaches thereof.
In recent years, several mechanisms set up under international human rights law have stepped in to fill this compliance void. By way of example, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council takes into account applicable IHL obligations while carrying out its Universal Periodic Review, and the investigative mechanisms that it has established at a growing pace do report on serious IHL violations. Also, regional human rights courts are increasingly engaging with IHL in their case-law, by applying IHL provisions indirectly or by accommodating them within the framework of governing human rights instruments.
For all its potential, such an engagement by human rights bodies with IHL is often criticized for being overly politicized, failing to prevent violations, antagonizing important stakeholders, and setting unrealistic requirements that lead to an overall weakening and/or misapplication of IHL.
In 2021, the Geneva Academy created an IHL Expert Pool (IHL-EP) composed of thematically and geographically representative experts in the field of IHL. The IHL-EP works to strengthen the capacity of human rights mechanisms to incorporate IHL into their work in an efficacious and comprehensive manner. By so doing, it aims to address the normative and practical challenges that human rights bodies encounter when dealing with cases in which IHL applies.
The IHL-EP provides expert advice on priority IHL themes on a solicited and non-solicited basis. Examples include bespoke technical guidance, the submission of amicus curiae briefs, preparation of language for reports by special rapporteurs, etc. Complementing this, the IHL-EP delivers training on IHL for human rights bodies and through targeted bilateral meetings.
The Expert Pool is a responsive mechanism that works to deliver technical assistance, capacity development and legal opinion for users within the human rights community of practice. While the majority of this work takes place behind the scenes and through quiet diplomacy, wherever possible outputs are re-packaged in an appropriate format for external use and distribution.