Policy Project: International Law and Humanitarian Protection

Humanitarian practitioners operate within a web of international legal frameworks pertaining to humanitarian access, operations, and protection. From international humanitarian law (IHL) to international human rights law, refugee law, and other legal frameworks applicable in situations of armed conflict and complex emergencies, it is crucial for humanitarian actors to understand their rights and obligations. Additionally, they must understand the legal rights of their beneficiaries and counterparts in order to improve humanitarian protection and assistance.

To this end, the work of the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA) on international law and humanitarian protection aims to improve understanding of international legal frameworks applicable in conflict and complex emergencies to build the operational capacity of professionals engaged in humanitarian protection. ATHA aims to provide accessible tools and methods for practitioners to enhance practitioners' awareness and understanding of how the practical implementation and enforcement of international legal norms can be integrated into protection programming sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of populations in conflict.

Raising awareness of humanitarian principles and law within the international community, advancing the implementation of IHL in armed conflict, and addressing IHL violations are critical to improving the humanitarian situation in armed conflicts, as well as addressing some of the root causes that contribute to existing protection crises.


International Humanitarian Law Distance Learning Series

These self-paced, interactive e-learning modules are designed to meet the needs of the busy humanitarian professional. Less like lectures and more like hands-on training courses, they provide a great introduction to some of the most challenging subjects in humanitarian action. MORE


October 2016

Protecting Humanitarian Action: Key Challenges and Lessons from the Field​

Julia Brooks 

Executive Summary

This paper presents an overview of key challenges and dilemmas faced in the protection of humanitarian action and aims to provide an intial overview of the legal, policy, and operational trends and issues identified by ATHA through its ongoing research and discussions with practitioners... MORE


Interactive Briefing | Humanitarians Under Attack: Tensions, Disparities, and Legal Gaps in Protection

Julia Brooks

Executive Summary

Humanitarian professionals working in complex environments face increasing threats and attacks that endanger their lives, violate international humanitarian law, and jeopardize the consistent and effective delivery of emergency relief to populations in need... MORE


Turning the Stranger into a Partner: The Role and Responsibilities of Civil Society in International Humanitarian Law Formulation and Application

Bruno Demeyere 

Executive Summary

This paper examines the relationship between the legal framework of international humanitarian law (IHL) and civil society actors operating in conflict situations... MORE

Month 2016

Human Rights in Humanitarian Action and Development Cooperation and the Implications of Rights-Based Approaches in the Field​

Prisca Benelli

Executive Summary

This brief explores the implications of the rights-based approach, or approaches, (RBA) in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance... MORE


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pursuing Accountability in Syria

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

After over five years of war in Syria, civilians have not only been frequently caught in the crossfire, but have been intentionally targetedMORE

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Humanitarian Negotiation Series: The Role of Laws and Norms

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

What role do humanitarian law and norms play in humanitarian negotiations? Practitioners have diverse array of views: some field workers perceive that the law holds a high level of practical utility in their negotiations, while others have found it to be irrelevant to their workMORE

Wednesday, October 26, 2016  

Humanitarian Negotiation Series: Protection of Medical Personnel and Operations at the Frontlines

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

Recent high-profile attacks on humanitarian professionals and operations in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among others, call attention to the growing vulnerabilities of humanitarian staff and medical operations at the frontlinesMORE

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Implications of Applying IHL to Low-Intensity Conflict: From Internal Disturbance to Armed Conflict

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

Humanitarian actors increasingly find themselves in contexts where the application of the norms and concepts of international humanitarian law (IHL) is contestedMORE

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Practitioner Profile | Sareta Ashraph

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

In this practitioner profile, ATHA is joined by Sareta Ashraph, Chief Analyst on the Commission of Inquiry on the Syria crisis since May 2012MORE

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Role of Humanitarian Professionals in Promoting Respect for IHL

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

Amidst recurring violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), strengthening compliance with these international norms is indispensable to the protection of civilians in armed conflictMORE

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gender Perspectives on IHL

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Armed conflict affects men, women, girls and boys in fundamentally different ways, often exacerbating pre-existing gender inequalities in societyMORE

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers Under International Law

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

Given that aid workers frequently operate in complex and insecure settings, some risks are inherent to humanitarian actionMORE

Thursday, April 30, 2015 

The Role of Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-finding in Civilian Protection

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The past several decades have seen a dramatic proliferation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions mandated by governments and international organizationsMORE

Thursday, November 20, 2014 

Humanitarians Under Attack: Delivering Aid in Insecure Settings

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

Recent high-profile attacks on humanitarian professionals in Syria and Iraq call attention to a disturbing trend: humanitarian agencies face growing threats and attacks on their staffMORE

Wednesday, November 12, 2014  

The "New World" of IHL Compliance: An Interview with Charles Garraway

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to the podcast here.

In this episode, ATHA's Rob Grace talks with Professor Charles Garraway, who is a Vice-President of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission; faculty at the International Institute of International Law in San Remo, Italy; and a fellow at the Human Rights Centre at the University of EssexMORE

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 

Humanitarian Assistance Webcast: New Warfare Technologies, New Protection Challenges

Recent scientific and technological advances have given rise to unprecedented means and methods of warfare. Some of these new technologies — such as observation and combat drones — are already in use, while others — for example, nanotechnologies, combat robots, and laser weapons — are still in experimental stagesMORE

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Human Rights and Humanitarian Action (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 8)

Human rights norms are playing an increasingly important role in humanitarian action. Yet there seems to be a growing confusion on the distinct origins and nuances of these bodies of law among practitioners engaged in humanitarian protection. This conflation has sometimes weakened arguments for compliance especially in situations involving intermittent bouts of conflict interspersed with periods of relative peaceMORE

Thursday, December 15, 2011  

NGOs' Rights and Responsibilities for Humanitarian Access (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 4)

In recent years, humanitarian organizations have seen a rise in constraints on their access to vulnerable populations in times of conflict or internal disturbanceMORE


February 6, 2017  

Silent Witness or Undercover Cops: Exploring the Role of Humanitarian Actors in Promoting Accountability

Humanitarians are increasingly exasperated with the lack of respect for international humanitarian law in a number of contemporary conflicts. Many are regularly calling for  those violating the basic tenets of the law of war to be held accountable and in this context, it is worth examining the potential role these same actors can play in relation to such accountability mechanismsMORE

January 19, 2017  

Alternative Mechanisms for Pursuing Accountability in Syria

“Flouting the most basic rules governing the conduct of war has become contagious,” wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his report for the World Humanitarian Summit last yearMORE

October 4, 2016   

Legal Perspectives on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria and Iraq

On the 21st of September, CNN reported that ISIS was suspected of firing a shell containing mustard gas at an airbase in Iraq used by United States and Iraqi troopsMORE

September 14, 2016  

Responsibility for Civilian Casualties in Yemen

As the conflict in Yemen continues, civilian casualties are reaching alarming levels. At least 10,000 people have been killed and thousands wounded since March 2015, at a rate of thirteen civilian casualties per dayMORE

August 4, 2016  

The Gendering of Genocide: ISIS's Crimes Against the Yazidis

ISIS is committing genocide and other international crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria, as determined by the latest report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab RepublicMORE

May 31, 2016

EU-Turkey Agreement Undermines Refugee Protection in Law and in Practice

Since over a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe last year – and nearly 4,000 perished or went missing on the Mediterranean Sea – European leaders have been scrambling to find solutions to this evolving humanitarian and political challengeMORE

May 16, 2016  

Not a Target: Protecting Healthcare in Conflict

The al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, Syria. The Ma’arat Al-Numan hospital in Idlib, Syria. MORE

May 5, 2016

Bemba and Karadzic Convictions Set New Landmarks for International Justice

Two recent rulings by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) mark breakthroughs for international justice and the fight against impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of sexual violence as a weapon of warMORE

February 19, 2016  

IHL and Gender Perspectives: Time for Evolution or Revolution?

Over the last few decades there has been a concerted movement to promote a gender perspective within the international humanitarian law (IHL)MORE

December 21, 2015  

eyeWitness to Atrocities: Innovative Technology for Enhancing Accountability

This guest blog comes to us from Wendy Betts. Wendy is the Director of the eyeWitness project at the International Bar Association. She has twenty years of experience in international development, rule of law reform, and transitional justice. MORE

December 9, 2015 

In Defense of International Humanitarian Law

As the frequency and brutality of conflict increases around the world, a number of voices are questioning the relevance of international humanitarian law (IHL), as well as its chief guardian the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)MORE

December 3, 2015  

The Rohingya: Genocide in the Modern Era?

Ethnically and religiously distinct from the majority population, the Rohingya people in Myanmar face state-sponsored discrimination, and mounting evidence of serious human rights abuses, according to numerous recent reports. Increasingly urgent reports – including from the US Holocaust Memorial Museumthe International State Crime Initiative and Yale Law School – argue that this state-sponsored violence rises to the level of genocideMORE

November 4, 2015    

Why No International Inquiry in Yemen?

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reviewed two resolutions to investigate serious violations of international law committed during the conflicts in Sri Lanka and YemenMORE

May 12, 2015   

From Bosnia to Somalia: Classifying "Involvement" in Armed Conflict

The laws governing armed conflict may seem simple on the surface. Soldiers can be targeted; civilians cannot. But the line between these groups is blurry and can have life-and-death implications. MORE

October 8, 2015   

U.S. Denies War Crime Allegations in Kunduz MSF Hospital Bombing: Could the Label Fit?

While much remains unclear, facts are slowly emerging about the U.S. airstrikes on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan on October 3rd, which killed 12 staff, all Afghans, and at least 10 patients, and seriously wounded another 37 peopleMORE

May 13, 2015   

New Publication Examines Different Approaches to Assisting Victims of Armed Conflict

Mitigating the human costs of armed conflict and armed violence has become a moral and legal imperative over the past two decades. MORE

September 28, 2015 

Op-Ed: Gaps in the Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers

An abbreviated French version of this post appeared as an op-ed in the French newspaper, L’Humanité on 25 September 2015, as part of a series on attacks against humanitarian aid workers. The full English version is reprinted belowMORE

September 15, 2015  

Humanitarian Access: Yemen in Crisis

International humanitarian law (IHL), in both treaty and customary form, governs humanitarian access in situations of international armed conflict (IAC), non-international armed conflict (NIAC), and occupationMORE

September 1, 2015  

Enforcing International Law in an Age of Seeming Impunity

ISIS’ recently advertised destruction of part of the ancient complex at Palmyra shocked the international conscience, and raised a renewed chorus of denunciation, with Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, condemning the destruction as “a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity.” MORE

August 17, 2015    

U Attacks on the Press: Are International Protections for Journalists Adequate? What Lessons Can We Learn for the Humanitarian Sector?

In last month’s ATHA Podcast on the Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers under International Law, our listener Thomas from Palestine asked: “How do you suggest to strengthen protection for humanitarian workers? Is there promise in endeavoring to tie this category of non-combatant protection with fortified protection for journalists, for example?”MORE

August 12, 2015  

Contesting the Legality of Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons are once again on the global agenda. Last month, Iran reached an agreement with the US and five other world powers, intended to halt its development of nuclear weaponsMORE

August 3, 2015  

Attacks on Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict

Threats to the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recently captured the headlines as ISIS forces took control of the central Syrian siteMORE

July 15, 2015

Is There a Right to Humanitarian Assistance?

Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria has produced what the UNHCR calls the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” MORE

June 11, 2015

Widespread Detention Practices Run Afoul of International Legal Protection for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Refugees and asylum seekers are facing increasing difficulties accessing international protection as the international community and host nations struggle to respond to the record 51.2 million displaced persons worldwide, including 16.7 million refugeesMORE

May 14, 2015

With Internal Displacement on the Rise, International Law Leaves Protection Gap

More people are fleeing conflict and violence than ever before on record, with the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) now exceeding 50 million peopleMORE

April 27, 2015

Introducing the HPCR Advanced Practitioner's Handbook on Commissions of Inquiry

A number of issue areas — civil-military coordination, security for field workers, and negotiation on the front lines of humanitarian action, for example — are high on the humanitarian sector’s research and policy agendaMORE

April 22, 2015

Applying a Standard of Proof in Fact-finding: The Challenge of Consistency

This guest blog comes to us from Theo Boutruche, a member of the Harvard Group of Professionals on Monitoring, Reporting and Fact-finding. This post is adapted from a post that was previously published on the author's blog, The Art of FactsMORE

December 16, 2014

Ending the Culture of Impunity for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

Last week, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, launched a new Policy on Sexual & Gender-Based Crimes, with the aim of strengthening the investigation and prosecution of these horrific crimesMORE

December 10, 2014

On Human Rights Day, Reflections on Humanitarian Protection in Armed Conflict

Today, as the world commemorates Human Rights Day, this post reflects on the integral role that human rights plays in humanitarian action, and the debate over the dual or parallel application of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) in situations of armed conflictMORE

December 4, 2014

Syria's Arbitrary Denial of Consent Keeps Aid from Reaching Syrians in Need

With the Assad regime severely limiting international humanitarian access to Syria, most international relief efforts have focused on addressing the needs of the over 3.1 million Syrian refugees in the region, including over a million each in Lebanon and Turkey, and hundreds of thousands each in Jordan, Iraq and EgyptMORE

November 14, 2014

The Fragmentation of Humanitarian Security Under IHL

The Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA) is taking an in-depth look at the growing trend of attacks on humanitarian workers and the operational challenges of undertaking humanitarian action in insecure settingsMORE

October 2, 2014

Sexual Violence in ISIS's "Islamic State": An International Crime

Whereas ISIS’s brutal beheadings and mass atrocities committed against minority populations have garnered significant international attention, and spurred a multilateral military intervention, their war against women has received much less focusMORE

September 29, 2014

Protecting Children and Education in Armed Conflict

As many of their peers return to school this month, countless children around the world are being exposed to violence and deprived of education by armed conflict, instability and terrorMORE

April 21, 2014

The Debate About Autonomous Weapons Systems

A seemingly historically unprecedented development has been taking shape within the past few years in the domain of international humanitarian law (IHL)MORE


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