The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights – a joint centre of the Faculty of Law at the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies – provides postgraduate education, conducts academic legal research and policy studies, and organises training courses and expert meetings. It concentrates on branches of international law that relate to armed conflict, protracted violence, and the protection of human rights.
Digital issues – such as artificial intelligence (AI), new means and methods of warfare, and big data – raise a series of new challenges that can profoundly affect the respect for and protection afforded by international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).
The Geneva Academy – via dedicated research and policy studies, publications, and events and expert meetings – addresses some of the legal aspects of these challenges and proposes ways to overcome them.
Its Geneva Human Rights Platform facilitates exchanges and discussions among various stakeholders – experts, practitioners, diplomats, and civil society – around digitalisation and human rights in order to provide policy advice on how to harness potential and mitigate danger in this rapidly changing field.
Digital policy issues
- Human rights principles
The Geneva Academy conducts research that examines the impact of new digital technologies on human rights. This research also assesses the extent to which existing international legal frameworks can continue to ensure the appropriate level of regulation, particularly in the face of ever-changing innovation.
In this context, the Geneva Academy co-operates with the University of Essex’s Human Rights Center in its Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project. This five-year project, initiated in 2016, maps and analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of big data and associated technologies from a human rights perspective. In this framework, the Geneva Academy notably conducts research on the application of regulatory mechanisms and modes of governance in relation to data collection, retention, and processing. The Geneva Academy also provides links to the project to Geneva-based audiences and ensures targeted dissemination activities.
In addition, the Geneva Academy provided support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Clément Voule for his work in preparing his thematic report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital age. This support notably included the organisation of a multistakeholder consultation in Nairobi and dialgoue with tech companies in Silicon Valley.
The Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP), hosted by the Geneva Academy, provides a neutral and dynamic forum of interaction for all stakeholders in the field of human rights to debate topical issues and challenges related to the functioning of the Geneva-based human rights system. Relying on academic research and findings, it works to enable various actors to be better connected, break silos, and hence, advance human rights.
In this context, the GHRP facilitates exchanges and discussions on human rights and digitalisation with a view to move the focus of UN human rights mechanisms beyond the right to privacy or freedom of expression by exploring impact on all rights and formulate specific policy advice.
- Emerging technologies
New (military) technologies are set to revolutionise the ways wars are fought. Significant advances in the fields of cyberspace, AI, robotics, and space technology are at the forefront of contemporary geopolitical power struggles and are already bringing about major transformative shifts in military and humanitarian affairs. Undoubtedly, these developments will have far-reaching and not yet fully understood consequences for future humanitarian needs and the humanitarian and international legal framework at large.
Via a lecture series on disruptive military technologies, the Geneva Academy aims to promote legal and policy debate on new military technologies and to deepen the understanding of the different technological trends shaping the digital battlefield of the future.
Its past research also discussed where and when autonomous weapon systems (AWS), also called ‘killer robots’, may be used, and what the procedural legal requirements are in terms of the planning, conduct, and aftermath of AWS use.
- Artificial intelligence
A recent research brief ‘Human Rights and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence’ addresses the opportunities and risk of AI for human rights, recalls that IHRL should occupy a central place in the governance of AI, and outlines two additional avenues to regulation: public procurement and standardisation.
- Data governance
The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (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.
RULAC currently monitors 37 armed conflicts – which are regularly updated to include new developments – involving at least 52 states and many more armed non-state actors.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the Geneva Academy shifted many of its activities online, including its events and teaching.
For the upcoming academic year (2020-2021), the Geneva Academy will resort to a hybrid teaching method with courses taught simultaneously in-class and online for its three master's programmes.
In addition, its training and short courses courses will also be available online and in situ.
Future of Meetings
Any reference to online or remote meetings?
Yes, amid the COVID-19 crisis, the Geneva Academy shifted many of its activities online, including its events and teaching. For the upcoming academic year (2020-2021), the Geneva Academy will resort to a hybrid teaching method with courses taught simultaneously in-class and online for its three master's programmes. In addition, its training and short courses will also be available online and in situ.