From the European Court of Human Rights to UN Human Rights Mechanisms: A Productive Start for the IHL Expert Pool

27 April 2023

Launched last year, our new IHL Expert Pool (IHL-EP) began – through a series of activities carried out in 2022 – to position itself as a flexible tool that human rights mechanisms can rely on to increase their international humanitarian law (IHL) knowledge and to apply IHL in their work.

‘While more time is needed to deploy this new mechanism’s full potential, it has already contributed in varied and impactful ways to the implementation of IHL by regional and international human rights mechanisms’ explains Dr Erica Harper, Head of Research and Policy Studies at the Geneva Academy.

‘The granting of leave by the European Court of Human Rights to intervene as a third party in the case Netherlands and Ukraine v. Russia and the convening of an interdisciplinary expert meeting on the use of open-source information to prosecute and investigate international crimes are just two examples of this impact’ she adds.

IHL Advice to UN Human Rights Mechanisms

During its first year, the IHL-EP provided IHL advice and inputs to various United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms – on both a solicited and unsolicited basis – on key issues like starvation during armed conflicts, the use of mercenaries from the standpoint of IHL, the (mis)use of IHL in counter-terrorism operations, and new technologies and enforced disappearances.

Advice to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri solicited advice from the IHL-EP in the preparation of his report on ‘Conflict and the right to food’. Dr Rogier Bartels (University of Amsterdam) provided indications on several topics, including the interplay between IHL and the right to food, the criminalization of starvation, the resort to food as a weapon in times of armed conflict, and the prospects for corporate liability.

Advice to the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries

To prepare the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries’ country visit to Armenia – which took place in late February 2023 – the IHL-EP responded to a call for inputs by submitting a paper on the use of mercenaries, or mercenary-related activities, from the standpoint of IHL and broader public international law. After outlining applicable legal norms to be found in IHL and in the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, Ilya Nuzov (International Federation for Human Rights and Paris Institute of Political Sciences) offered a detailed analysis of Armenia’s domestic law and practice relating to mercenaries and provided a set of conclusions and recommendations.

Advice to the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights

In the perspective of the first independent global study on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on civil society and civic space (scheduled for 2023), the IHL-EP also participated in a call for inputs by the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Dr Fionnuala Ni Aolain. Dr Pavle Kilibarda and Michael Moncrieff (University of Geneva) provided comments on the lack of transparent, empirical decision-making and the over-extension and misuse of IHL in counter-terrorism operations. The submission notably addresses critical aspects in the definition and articulation of counter-terrorism policies (including the vagueness of policy goals and civil society’s absence from the evaluation and oversight of counter-terrorism), as well as the over-classification of situations of violence involving armed non-State actors and the over-reliance on the conduct of hostilities paradigm to justify extra-territorial lethal targeting.

Advice to the UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances

In the context of the UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances’ preparation of a thematic study on new technologies and enforced disappearances, the IHL-EP submitted a paper prepared by Edward Millett and Dr Francesco Romani (Geneva Academy) that analyses the benefits and the risks that open-source information (OSI) poses in relation to enforced disappearances. Relying on available practice and case studies, the submission points to the many ways in which OSI has impacted this field in terms of fostering accountability but also facilitating the search of the disappeared, while also making practical recommendations on how to address the risks of unintended consequences that flow from deploying OSI capabilities.

Participation in an Expert Consultation Convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture

Finally, Dr Francesco Romani, our Research Fellow in charge of the IHL-EP, also participated in an experts’ consultation convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture for the compilation of her report on the duty to investigate crimes of torture in national law and practice.

About the IHL Expert Pool

Composed of an ever-expanding list of thematically and geographically representative experts in the field of IHL, the IHL-EP – coordinated by our Research Fellow Dr Francesco Romani – works to strengthen the capacity of human rights mechanisms to incorporate IHL into their work, by providing expert advice on priority IHL themes on a solicited and non-solicited basis.

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