Geneva Call’s Annual Report 2011

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

At the end of last month, Geneva Call published its Annual Report for 2011. Geneva Call is an  NGO with a specific mission of pursuing engagement with armed groups for the purpose of encouraging them to comply with humanitarian norms. Its innovative engagement model makes it definitely an organisation “to watch” for anyone working on issues relating to armed groups.

Geneva Call’s journey in the last 12 years from non-governmental outlier to trailblazer of humanitarian protection is linked to the international community’s growing acceptance of the fact that engagement with armed groups is often necessary to secure the protection of civilians. This constitutes a radical change in approach and one which is by no means accepted by all governments, particularly those engaged in armed conflict (see earlier blog post here). But – at international level – the idea that engagement with armed groups is key to improving their compliance with humanitarian norms is gaining increasing currency and support. 

In May 2012, UN Secretary-General said in his report to the United Nations on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:-

“While engagement will not always result in improved protection, its absence will almost certainly mean more civilian casualties in current conflicts”(para 45).

Geneva Call was set up in 2000 and originally limited its activities to anti-personnel mines. It launched Deed Of Commitment Under Geneva Call For Adherence To A Total Ban On Anti-Personnel Mines And For Cooperation In Mine Action which allows armed groups to formally pledge to adhere to a total ban on anti-personnel mines and allow their compliance to the instrument to be monitored.

Its driving philosophy can be summarised as the ‘ownership of norms’. This is the idea that if armed groups feel as if they ‘own’ humanitarian norms – i.e. have taken positive action to express their adherence to them – they will be more likely to comply with them.

12 years since it was set up, Geneva Call has secured the signatures of 42 different armed actors to its deed of commitment landmines. The signatories come from Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Western Sahara, Burma/ Myanmar, India, the Philippines, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. It is also working with two more deeds of commitment on the protection of children in armed conflict and towards an end to sexual violence and gender discrimination.

The Annual Report makes interesting reading for those who are working on issues of compliance, non state actors and international law. Below are a number of extracted passages which give a flavour of Geneva Call’s work:-

– Geneva Call now has activities in Senegal, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, DRC, Western Sahara, Burma/ Myanmar, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, South Caucasus and Turkey.

– Geneva Call is increasingly working on a  broader range of humanitarian norms, many of which relate to, or are relevant to issues around the displacement of civilians in armed conflict

12 armed non state actors have already indicated interest in signing the Deed of Commitment on the protection of children (since the report was written two armed groups have signed this deed. See here)

– During 2011, several non state armed actors stated that they would not, or could not, sign the Deed of Commitment banning landlines. The reasons given were generally political or military

– Geneva Call is taking measures to ensure that its work on the protection of children in armed conflict is complementary to the UN Security Council’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. In three country situations where it has not been possible for the UN to have contact or dialogue with armed actors through the MRM process, Geneva Call has been in dialogue with six listed armed actors

– Geneva Call is increasingly asked by Deed of Commitment signatories and non-signatories to provide assistance in understanding and implementing humanitarian norms. Responding to these requests, Geneva Call has been leading workships during the year on international humanitarian law and international human rights law with a number of armed non state actors

– The notion that engaging and dialoguing with armed non state actors should be considered a proscribed activity could seriously limit Geneva Call’s humanitarian activities

– In instances where monitoring compliance by signatories has been impossible, monitoring has been carried out remotely and by requesting self-reporting on progress

– Many of the armed non state actors who would not commit to the landmine ban are willing to engage with Geneva Call on the Deed of Commitment on the protection of children from the effects of armed conflict

Finally, one member of staff in describing what is was like to work at Geneva Call said: “it is like threading a needle while standing on your head on a rollercoaster, suspended to a tractor which is driving up-hill, yet always convinced of heading in the right direction”. Wow! Sounds like quite a ride.

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