Harmonizing Standards for Armed Conflict
The Institute's project on Harmonizing Standards for Armed Conflict explores avenues for raising legal standards regarding humanitarian protection in non-international armed conflicts.
Since long before the adoption of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, distinct international legal regimes have governed the conduct of armed conflicts between states (international armed conflicts) and conflicts between states and non-state groups (non-international armed conflicts), with significantly more detailed legal protections applying in the former. In the past decade, states have confronted a number of significant difficulties arising from the application of this bifurcated system to conflicts of an ambiguous and evolving nature, from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, to Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and elsewhere. Lack of clarity in the rules governing modern conflict has also raised significant concerns regarding legal protections for those involved in, or affected by, conflict. In 2012, the Institute launched a joint U.S.-UK based project to address the problems associated with this bifurcated framework and to explore the possibility of adopting a uniform regime of heightened protection that would be applicable in all armed conflicts.
The goal of the Harmonization project is to explore the feasibility of extending the entire 1949 Geneva Convention regime to conflicts between states and non-state armed groups. Individual states, or groups of states, would adhere to this regime as a minimum baseline for all armed conflicts through legally binding unilateral declarations. If this approach proves feasible, it will have the effect of harmonizing the legal standards for the conduct of all armed conflicts, regardless of classification, clarifying legal requirements, raising the level of protection for individuals, and reducing multilateral coordination problems, based upon the highest current levels of protection under international humanitarian law and rules that states are already comfortable administering in situations of international armed conflict.
In October 2014, project leaders hosted the fifth meeting of the Harmonization project’s steering committee, composed of high-level current and former military personnel from the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, as well as leading academic and civil society experts on the law of war and human rights. In September 2015, Sarah Cleveland presented the project at the annual international humanitarian law roundtable in San Remo, Italy.
Project leaders also continued to consult with many outside experts, including representatives of civil society and governments. The final project report is forthcoming.
Sarah Cleveland, "Harmonizing Standards in Armed Conflict" EJIL Talk! September 8, 2014
Sir Daniel Bethlehem