The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs published an article authored by Signal Program staff in which they detail the technology, perceived impact and lessons learned from running operations for the Satellite Sentinel Project. This inside assessment of the Satellite Sentinel Project has been offered open source by the journal in order to inform humanitarian practitioners, scholars and the public.
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. This article—based in part on extensive interviews conducted by the author with fact-finding practitioners—examines areas of methodological agreement and disagreement, trends of professional decision making, and normative perceptions that practitioners hold about best practices regarding the interpretation of fact-finding mandates. Overall, the article aims to highlight points of convergence and divergence between past professional experiences and to illuminate the benefits and risks of different methodological choices.
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. This paper — to provide a point of reference indicating the implications of different methodological choices — examines areas of methodological agreement and disagreement, trends of professional decision-making, and normative perceptions that practitioners hold about best practices regarding the design and planning of MRF mechanisms. Based on an assessment of fifteen MRF missions implemented over the past decade, this paper analyzes how commissioners on these missions interpreted the mission’s investigative scope, examines the factors that guided decisions about the activities that the mission would undertake, and offers an overview of common staffing dilemmas. Overall, the paper aims to present a portrait of the state of MRF practice, in terms of how practitioners approach fulfilling their mandates.
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? How should these factors influence the ways that practitioners approach drafting MRF reports? This paper examines these questions, which — given that the effectiveness of an MRF mission hinges on the ability of commissioners to foster positive public perceptions of the mission’s credibility — are crucial to the overall success of the domain of MRF.
The scale and cadence of crises that demand international humanitarian response is increasing. The cumulative frequency and severity of climate change on large populations, rapid and unsustainable urbanization, decreasing biodiversity, and the impending realities of resource scarcities and the armed conflicts they might catalyze are only some of the challenges that loom ahead. It is ironic that while human civilization today possesses the most advanced technologies, global prosperity, and abundance, we face the greatest absolute number of people lacking access to clean water, food, shelter, and basic healthcare.
Communities in South Sudan have endured decades of conflict. Protracted conflict exacerbated reproductive health disparities and gender inequities. This study, conducted prior to the country’s 2011 independence, aimed to assess attitudes toward gender inequitable norms related to sexual relationships and reproductive health and the effects of sex, age, and education on these attitudes.
This project rigorously evaluated programming that addresses stigma against survivors. In this program evaluation, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Women in War program worked with the Congolese NGO, Centre d’Assistance Medico-Psychosociale (CAMPS) to assess which parts of their programming are most effective and how to continue to improve services related to reducing stigma.
During armed conflict in East and Central Africa civilian dwellings are intentionally targeted and razed. These traditional civilian dwellings are known as tukuls which are primarily mud and thatch huts.
The intentional destruction of these dwellings, given their prevalence in these regions, is often one of the only available indicators of the intentional targeting of civilians observable in satellite imagery.
This field has lacked accepted methodologies for performing this type of analysis. This guide is the first to focus on tukuls because they are a uniquely valuable metric for both documenting attacks on civilians during armed conflicts and assessing potential mass displacement that can result from these incidents.
This guide is the second in a series of Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guides. Future satellite imagery interpretation guides from the Signal Program may focus on other, related phenomena and structures present in similar operational contexts.
Academic debate on whether so-called “drug wars” can be classified as “armed conflicts” is more than just semantic. Indeed, the official designation of a situation as an armed conflict carries with it attendant rights and obligations applicable to states and non-state actors alike. The legal regime regulating armed conflicts is referred to as International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Some social scientists fail to understand that the debate on the applicability of IHL to “drug wars” is only marginally influenced by the broader discussions on “new wars” and “fourth generation warfare”. This article considers the principal international legal approaches to engaging with ostensibly new types of organized violence. It reviews historical progress with respect to the regulation of so-called “non-international armed conflicts” and considers the track record to date. The paper finds that the “formal approach”, based as it is on the cautious development of IHL´s existing legal basis, failed to offer a satisfying degree of legal certainty. The paper also notes how an alternative set of approaches is emerging - referred to here as “functional approaches”. The paper shows that this new generation of strategies could potentially complement the formal approach by offering alternative means of effectively regulating “drug wars” and other gray zone conflicts.
This paper presents an overview of key challenges and dilemmas faced in the protection of humanitarian action and aims to provide an initial overview of the legal, policy, and operational trends and issues identified by ATHA through its ongoing research and discussions with practitioners. On the basis of this analysis, this paper addresses three key areas. The first section highlights knowledge and questions regarding security incidents, trends, and causes of violence, including around causes and motives for attacks, and tensions between individual and collective responses. The next section then explores the role of the humanitarian principles, and the perceptions of humanitarian actors, in affecting their security in the field. Building on this, the final section examines the protection of humanitarian action under international law, and the impunity gap resulting from effective implementation or enforcement of the law. The purpose of this paper is to provide key background information and to serve as a starting point for dialogue and reflection on the protection of humanitarian action from attack. It is based on research and consultations with experts and humanitarian practitioners in the field.
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. In light of these issues, this paper explores challenges and opportunities related to the predominant organizational approaches to the protection of aid workers in complex and insecure environments, and highlights often overlooked disparities in the risks faced by different groups of humanitarian professionals based on their status as national or international staff, gender, and organizational affiliation. It argues that insufficient attention has thus far been paid to the significance of these disparities and their implications for operational security and effectiveness. Furthermore, it highlights significant fragmentation and gaps in the protection of aid workers under international law and the culture of impunity prevailing for perpetrators of such attacks. It then examines the recent trends in humanitarian security management — namely, acceptance, protection, and deterrence. Finally, it offers reflections for the humanitarian community on improving the state of knowledge, practice and law with regard to the protection of humanitarian professionals.