Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research

Published: 
March, 2015

The HPCR Advanced Practitioner's Handbook on Commissions of Inquiry was drafted by the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) in collaboration with the HPCR Group of Professionals on Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-finding, a team of high-level experts set up by HPCR. The Handbook aims to complement existing policy literature by addressing the more challenging methodological dilemmas facing the domain of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF).

Published: 
December, 2014

The mandate interpretation process is crucial to the implementation of fact-finding missions geared toward investigating alleged violations of international law, including human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law. However, many disagreements exist about how fact-finding practitioners should weigh different factors in their mandate interpretation processes.

Published: 
December, 2014

Over the past few decades, governments have established various international criminal courts and tribunals (ICCTs), including several ad hoc entities — such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) — as well as a permanent body in the form of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Additionally, international actors have also established a wide array of non-judicial monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions, such as commissions of inquiry, monitoring components of peace operati

Published: 
August, 2014

This paper examines follow-up measures that have been undertaken in the wake of reports published by monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding missions tasked to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. Section 1 explores the perspectives of both MRF practitioners and scholars on the importance of recommendations offered in MRF reports. Section 2 examines the impacts that MRF practitioners seek to achieve. Section 3 provides an overview of the methodological dilemmas of assessing the outcomes of MRF work.

Published: 
July, 2014

This working paper examines how monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions have responded to challenges regarding public communication and report drafting. Overall, the paper aims to present a portrait of the views and practices of the MRF community — as well as the implications of different approaches — regarding transparency. What should MRF practitioners communicate publicly? What information should be kept private? When a mission does communicate publicly, how should practitioners do so? What factors should shape practitioners’ communications strategies?

Published: 
July, 2014

This working paper examines how monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions have responded to challenges regarding public communication and report drafting. Overall, the paper aims to present a portrait of the views and practices of the MRF community — as well as the implications of different approaches — regarding transparency. What should MRF practitioners communicate publicly? What information should be kept private? When a mission does communicate publicly, how should practitioners do so? What factors should shape practitioners’ communications strategies?

Published: 
February, 2014

This paper sets out various dilemmas faced by practitioners undertaking fact-finding missions, based on a desk analysis and extensive interviews with expert practitioners. The paper addresses the challenges, both practical and theoretical, related to standards of proof and information collection and suggests policy options that might be pursued moving forward.

Published: 
February, 2014

This paper sets out various dilemmas faced by practitioners undertaking fact-finding missions, based on a desk analysis and extensive interviews with expert practitioners. The paper addresses the challenges, both practical and theoretical, related to standards of proof and information collection and suggests policy options that might be pursued moving forward.

Published: 
February, 2014

One dilemma that faces practitioners serving on monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) missions concerns the protection of witnesses, victims, and staff. The paradox underlying the issue of protection is that, while statements from witnesses and victims account for the predominant evidence when investigating human rights violations, the very fact that victims and witnesses decide to come forward and contribute to the establishment of the truth can put these individuals at risk.

Published: 
December, 2013

The design and planning process is crucial to the implementation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) mechanisms geared toward investigating violations of international law, including human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law. However, many disagreements exist about how MRF actors should weigh different factors in their design and planning decision-making processes.

Published: 
December, 2013

The design and planning process is crucial to the implementation of monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) mechanisms geared toward investigating violations of international law, including human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law. However, many disagreements exist about how MRF actors should weigh different factors in their design and planning decision-making processes.

Published: 
October, 2013

While the existence of monitoring, reporting and fact-finding (MRF) bodies in the international realm is not a new phenomenon, the recent proliferation of such institutions raises a number of policy and legal issues. One issue is that, as MRF bodies are increasingly called to make legal determinations and interpret existing unsettled rules or concepts of international law, these mechanisms’ role and practice in this regard attract more legal scrutiny.

Published: 
January, 2013

The! way! in! which! international! actors! implement monitoring,! reporting,! and! fact1 finding! (MRF)!mechanisms!is! changing. Modern!MRF!mechanisms!date back! to 1913,! when,! after! the! Balkans! had! erupted! in! war! for! the! second! time! in! two! years,! the! Carnegie! Endowment! for! International! Peace! initiated a! commission! to! investigate! potential violations!of!international!law. But!the!Carnegie!Endowment!did!not!begin its! work! until! fighting! had! ceased,! believing,! as! the! mission’s! final! report! notes,! that a! mission! initiated! before! the! conflict’s!

Published: 
July, 2012

A simple glance at recent news headlines reveals the growing prevalence of international missions tasked to monitor and report on potential violations of international law.  In the past few months alone, the United Nations (UN) dispatched a team to monitor the ceasefire in Syria, and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) mandated a commission of inquiry to examine Israeli settlements in the West Bank, extended the mandate of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and mandated a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.  These missions are part of a rap

Published: 
July, 2012

A simple glance at recent news headlines reveals the growing prevalence of international missions tasked to monitor and report on potential violations of international law.  In the past few months alone, the United Nations (UN) dispatched a team to monitor the ceasefire in Syria, and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) mandated a commission of inquiry to examine Israeli settlements in the West Bank, extended the mandate of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and mandated a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.  These missions are part of

Published: 
June, 2012

In line with its mission to engage in critical examination of humanitarian and conflict policy, HPCR undertakes a variety of academic and research initiatives to identify significant developments in Humanitarian and Human Right Law. As part of this research, in 2010 HPCR established a thematic working group on IHL and IHRL. This working group was comprised of senior level practitioners from both the humanitarian assistance sector and the military. While not comprehensive, this document seeks to provide key jurisprudence and doctrine in both the humanitarian and human rights fields. 

Published: 
June, 2012

In line with its mission to engage in critical examination of humanitarian and conflict policy, HPCR undertakes a variety of academic and research initiatives to identify significant developments in Humanitarian and Human Right Law. As part of this research, in 2010 HPCR established a thematic working group on IHL and IHRL. This working group was comprised of senior level practitioners from both the humanitarian assistance sector and the military. While not comprehensive, this document seeks to provide key jurisprudence and doctrine in both the humanitarian and human rights fields. 

Published: 
April, 2012

In recent decades, the international community has exhibited an increased devotion to civilian protection and promotion of international legal accountability. To activate this sense of responsibility, during armed conflicts and internal disturbances, international actors have created numerous monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) mechanisms to investigate potential violations of international law.

Published: 
February, 2012

The Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University (HPCR) is a research and policy program based at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Program is engaged in research and advisory services on humanitarian operations and the protection of civilians in conflict areas.

Published: 
July, 2010

On 14 April 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented to President George W. Bush a Disengagement Plan designed, according to the Israeli prime minister, to improve the security of Israel and stabilize its political and economic situation. After the original disengagement plan was defeated in a Likud referendum in early May, the Israeli prime minister issued a revised version of his Disengagement Plan on 6 June 2004.

Published: 
May, 2010

A prominent issue in contemporary international law and policy involves civilians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (“OPT”)1 who wish to seek reparation for damage allegedly sustained as a result of Israel’s activities vis-à-vis the OPT, whether in the course of belligerent occupation or armed conflict. This policy brief provides humanitarian practitioners with a basic understanding of the legal framework applicable to that issue.

Published: 
June, 2009
In the context of increased scrutiny of humanitarian assistance over the past decade, issues around the accountability of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) - and the perceived lack thereof - have been discussed widely and frequently. This reflects the recognition of both the increased relevance of INGOs and of the underlying problems associated with their role. Donor agencies in particular have become increasingly concerned with the accountability of the operational agencies they fund, who in return have put in place elaborate evaluation processes and systems.
Published: 
May, 2009

The debates over the applicability and interpretation of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) are vital to unity of effort as well as clarity of rules in coalition operations.  This paper has addressed the key sources of uncertainty underlying how LOAC is and should be applied in coalition operations, focusing first on understanding which legal frameworks apply in particular context of armed conflict.

Published: 
February, 2009

The increase in violent attacks against civilians and non-civilians and the claims made by groups waging such attacks that their acts are legitimate under Islamic law generated wide interest in Islamic ‘laws of war’. This paper attempts to challenge the approach focused on comparison between international humanitarian law (IHL) and Islamic law on the basis of the rules adopted in each system and argues that both legal regimes are governed by certain theoretical and ideological paradigms that are distinct from each other.

Published: 
March, 2008

Recent incidents involving private security companies1 (PSCs) in Iraq have raised questions among governments and international agencies regarding the appropriate legal framework to regulate these organizations as well as to determine both company and employer liability under international humanitarian law (IHL).2 While the use of PSCs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has remained more limited than in Iraq,3 the growing presence of PSCs, especially at military checkpoints and crossings, has raised concerns among humanitarian practitioners.

Published: 
October, 2006

Humanitarian organizations operate in increasingly hostile environments. Although authoritative statistics are scarce, anecdotal evidence suggests that aid workers face life-threatening risks that are exacerbated by the growing number of humanitarian organizations operating in the field with varying mandates, without common professional security standards and with limited success with inter-agency security coordination.

Published: 
June, 2006

By all accounts, demographic pressures in the Gaza Strip — in terms of population density, age structure, and growth rate — are extraordinarily high compared to neighboring countries and regions. This population pressure, combined with limited resources and territorial isolation, places immense strain on public services, social and political institutions, and the natural environment. At the same time, insecurity resulting from a deteriorating political context leads to further poverty and unemployment.

Published: 
February, 2006

The concept of ‘transnational armed groups’ has been used increasingly since September 11, 2001 by those who consider the ‘war on terror’ to be an armed conflict and who wish to apply the laws of armed conflict, called international humanitarian law (IHL), to that conflict (rather than human rights domestic legislation and international law on cooperation in criminal matters). In this debate, it is often claimed that IHL, as it stands, is inadequate to cover such a conflict and such ‘transnational armed groups’. This paper discusses, firstly, when IHL applies to transnational armed groups.

Published: 
October, 2005

The numerous unexploded bomblets, or submunitions, discarded on the battlefield as a result of cluster munition attacks have attracted widespread criticism, particularly from non‐governmental organizations, prompting suggestions that new international law arrangements should be agreed to address the problem. These ‘dud’ bomblets may pose a post‐conflict risk for troops and civilians alike. The humanitarian concerns raised by this hazard have been recognised for a number of years.

Published: 
July, 2005

The conflict between Al Qaeda and the United States illustrates the evolution of warfare in three respects. • First, in an effort to compensate for the disparity in logistical military capability, a non-state actor party to an international conflict has sought to expand the platform of combat, regarding disparity of forces not as a deterrent but as an opportunity. This has implied the expansion of the panoply of means at the disposition of Al Qaeda; not merely terrorism but the full range of kinetic force to influence its enemy.

Published: 
May, 2005

International human rights law and international humanitarian law are parallel and complementary branches of international law with their distinct and distinctive supervision arrangements. In the conflicts taking place in the world today, both the institutions of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are called upon to apply and uphold international humanitarian law.

Published: 
March, 2005

The purpose of this note is to present a first report on the progress of the Security Management Initiative project as of March 15, 2005. This report covers the research and consultation phase, in preparation for the development of a draft curriculum and assessment tools, to be presented to an expert group in May 2005.

Published: 
January, 2005

Combatancy has throughout the history of organized warfare been an exclusionary concept. Distinguishing between combatants and civilians has long represented an important aspect of warfare and has been recognized as the indispensable means by which humanitarian principles are injected into the rules governing conduct in war. Yet the protection of participants in warfare under international humanitarian law remains characterized by a certain level of uncertainty as regards the codified provisions for combatants and civilians.

Published: 
October, 2004

Article 43 of the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, annexed to Hague Convention (II) of 1899 and (IV) of 1907, is the linchpin of the international law of belligerent occupation. Two diverse obligations are imposed on the Occupying Power by Hague Article 43: (a) to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and life in the occupied territory; (b) to respect the laws in force in the occupied territory unless an “empêchement absolu” exists.

Published: 
October, 2004

International agencies are facing increasing levels of threats against their staff and activities in many of their operations. Since the end of the Cold War, these agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental alike, have been called to work more intensely in conflict areas.1 These areas have become singularly more dangerous in recent years, exposing staff to greater risks.

Published: 
June, 2004

Over the years, states, supported by other actors, have devoted considerable effort to devising and implementing in peacetime preventive measures aimed at ensuring better respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). Dissemination of IHL generally, within academic circles and among armed forces and armed groups has been reinforced, and IHL has been increasingly incorporated into military manuals and doctrine.

Published: 
June, 2004

At the dawn of the 21st century international humanitarian law2 is facing a number of significant challenges. The events since 11 September 2001 in particular have focused a bright spotlight on issues such as: the law governing conflict between states and nonstate actors; the criteria to be applied for qualification as a combatant; the identification and targeting of the enemy; and the status and treatment to be afforded to captured “noncombatants” who participate in hostilities. The campaign on terrorism is in many ways a reflection of a broader transformation of modern conflict.

Published: 
June, 2004

According to an uncontroversial principle of customary international humanitarian law (IHL), parties to an armed conflict must distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives. In order to spare civilians and the civilian population from hostilities and their effects, it is essential to define who and what may be attacked. The first rule regarding attacks (by acts of violence2 ) is that the intended target must be a military objective.

Published: 
June, 2004

When does the application of international humanitarian law properly begin and end in modern conflicts? Classical international law distinguished three types of armed conflict: (1) war; (2) civil war; and (3) armed hostilities short of war. The laws of war were applicable in time of war--from the declaration of war until the formal reestablishment of peace (for example, by the signing of a peace treaty). The laws of war were not applicable in civil wars--which were considered internal matters--unless a state formally recognized the insurgency as a belligerent.

Published: 
May, 2004

This note examines the legal aspects, under international humanitarian law (IHL), of Israel's practice of demolitions of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).1 It outlines the basis, history, and practice of house demolitions, sets forth the relevant IHL provisions that impact house demolitions, and reviews the positions of the different parties involved on this issue.

Published: 
May, 2004

This policy brief reviews the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applicable to the conduct of hostilities in urban environments, and identifies key legal provisions designed to enhance the protection of civilians in these areas.

Published: 
May, 2004

Urban warfare constitutes one of the most serious threats to the security and integrity of civilians in times of war. It represents, consequently, one of the most challenging areas of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in practice. This note reviews the rules of IHL applicable to the conduct of hostilities in urban environments, and identifies key legal provisions desgned to enhance the protection of civilians in these areas.

Published: 
February, 2004

This briefing note discusses the legal implications under international humanitarian law (IHL) of erecting and maintaining a separation barrier in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The main objective of this note is to review the applicable IHL rules and present the various legal perspectives of the parties involved in the debate on the legality of the separation barrier, particularly in the context of the advisory proceedings before the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Published: 
January, 2004
Published: 
June, 2003

The purpose of this report is to present the results of a youth roundtable on constitutional and legal reform, hosted February 5-6, 2003, by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) and co-organized by the Afghanistan Youth Center (AYC). This roundtable discussion, entitled “The Future of the Afghan Legal System: Perspectives from the Young Generation,” was held at the Khyber Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Published: 
January, 2003

The purpose of this brief is to summarize a series of observations on the current status of legal reform in Afghanistan gathered during a research mission undertaken by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) in November 2002, identify a key set of challenges to the reform process, and suggest strategies for addressing these challenges. The HPCR mission sought to go beyond the prevailing assumption that assistance to legal reform must focus primarily on quick impact material and technical assistance projects, urging rapid action by domestic players.

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About This Program

The Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) is a research and policy program devoted to conducting research on — and offering practical solutions for — professional and policy dilemmas facing the humanitarian sector. The Program was established in August 2000 as a collaborative effort of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Specific activities of HPCR include producing research outputs that apply scientific analysis to policy oriented research, devising high-level trainings for humanitarian practitioners, and publishing methodological tools for use during humanitarian field operations.