How we work

Our approach

Geneva Call works to protect civilians from harm and violence in situations of armed conflict.

We work tirelessly behind the scenes to reinforce adherence to international humanitarian norms enshrined in international humanitarian law and relevant human rights law by armed groups and de facto authorities.

Sound simple? It’s not.

Our work takes years of sustained preparation and delicate interactions leading to a lasting reduction of violence by AGDAs.

Geneva Call strives to improve the protection of civilians in areas of conflict or violence.

Our strategy is based on humanitarian engagement, a sustained and constructive process of interaction with AGDAs that can take various forms and uses different commitment tools.

First, we begin talking with armed groups and de facto authorities (AGDAs) that often are responsible for violating the norms – then we keep the conversation going.

Over time we work to persuade them that the norms – which are based on international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) – exist for good reason. They benefit everyone and protect the most vulnerable, particularly women, children, and marginalized groups most at risk. Many of these norms are already reflected in local customs and values and making the connection to international humanitarian principles is very important to cement the IHL training as long-term behavioral change.

We engage with AGDAs strictly in humanitarian terms. We talk with them about their obligations under international humanitarian law and relevant international human rights law [see below for more detail]. Even if sometimes we facilitate their entry into mediation processes, our work in no way changes the legal status of AGDAs.

We engage with them in a process that can take years of discussions to build trust. That’s why our dedicated staff is on the ground in several countries around the world. We also lead by example, and the diversity of our dedicated staff ensures we build trust with a diverse range of stakeholders.

Through our field missions, Geneva Call keeps in regular contact with AGDAs to raise their awareness about these humanitarian norms – and the universal benefits of adhering to them. We also raise awareness of how conflict affects populations differently. The needs of conflict-affected populations require the adoption of specific approaches and practices to protect civilian girls, boys, women, and men in fragile environments. An intersectional and gender sensitive approach allows Geneva Call to anticipate, plan, and react better to humanitarian challenges.

As part of our engagement, we provide training about the general rules of IHL and specific themes. Our modular training is tailor-made and outcome-focused, including presentations and practical exercises. We also ensure that both men and women AGDAs participate in order to maximize the ultimate impact on the communities of civilians living partially or completely under their control.

By addressing AGDAs’ practical concerns, we encourage them in turn to implement and adhere to these international standards in the contexts in which they operate.

Geneva Call uses a range of innovative, complementary tools to secure commitments from AGDAs:

  • Deeds of Commitment are signed by political and military leaders of the AGDAs in a formal, public ceremony held in Geneva. Deeds of Commitment are countersigned by Geneva Call as the witness and received by the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, which acts as the custodian of these documents. These are standard unilateral declarations that mirror international norms on specific themes and include a range of obligations. Incorporated within them is a provision that the AGDAs will fully cooperate with Geneva Call to monitor compliance. As of today, Geneva Call has developed 5 Deeds of Commitment on different thematic areas.
  • Unilateral Declarations are public pledges that AGDAs make to show they intend to abide by the general or specific rules that are part of humanitarian norms. Geneva Call supports AGDAs in the drafting and implementation of these unilateral declarations.
  • Internal Rules & Regulations are used to regulate AGDA members’ behaviour and, in some cases, the civilian populations that are living in areas under their control. These can range from codes of conduct, standing orders, and military manuals to internal organizational documents, penal codes, and decrees or legislation.

Geneva Call follows up on these commitments with continual engagement carried out through carefully developed and monitored implementation plans.

The implementation plan outlines the measures that the AGDAs will take for each of their commitments, the support required from Geneva Call for capacity building, and a timeline for regular progress reports and revisions.

Each measure is required to be done within a specific timeframe. An AGDA that is obliged to issue command orders or to undergo training, for example, must do so by an exact date.

These measures also often include monitoring provisions to ensure that Geneva Call and its partners will have physical access to a territory. This is accomplished through our field-based structure.

Thanks to our field presence, Geneva Call maintains professional observations, as well as from the AGDAs through self-reporting and third parties.

After we compile all of this information, we cross-check it for patterns to see how well the AGDAs have fulfilled their commitments. Based on these reviews, we regularly hold confidential discussions with the AGDAs’ leadership about their adherence to or alleged violations of their pledges.

When we receive reports of alleged violations, Geneva Call starts a verification process through different public and private channels. If the violation is confirmed, we will urge an AGDA to undertake an appropriate remedial measure. We would first communicate this need through a regular report shared with an AGDA’s leadership.

Only in the most serious cases would we consider suspension of dialogue with an AGDA and public reporting of its violations of these commitments, and possibly repudiate the signed Deed of Commitment.

This type of scenario has never occurred, but it could happen if: 1) an AGDA consistently refuses to address its own serious violations of the commitments that it has made; 2) these violations continue; and 3) all other avenues for trying to address the violations have been exhausted.

In our work, partnerships are paramount.

Locally, Geneva Call works with civil society organizations, women-led organizations, youth, and religious leaders. Our partnerships help us better understand the context and help civil society be better equipped to advocate for their own protection.

Geneva Call is in regular contact with governments, UN agencies, and other international NGOs as we strongly believe that our actions are complementary to those of other humanitarian, peace, and development actors.

Our external collaboration facilitates physical access, compliance monitoring activities, and helps shape context-specific humanitarian policies. All of those combine to create the critical support that is behind the successful implementation of our work.

Geneva Call was officially established in Geneva in the early 2000s. A conference held in January 2000 organized by the Swiss Campaign to Ban Landmines presented an opportunity to form a new organization to work specifically with AGDAs on this critical issue during armed conflicts.

A year later, we launched our first Deed of Commitment to totally ban landmines. In January 2010, we launched our second Deed of Commitment on the protection of children and education from the effects of armed conflict.

Over the next decade, we initiated several more Deeds of Commitment on other humanitarian issues, all focused on protecting civilians through our unique approach of turning dialogue into commitment.

Our approach also broadened as far as our use of other tools for securing commitments from AGDAs, such as declarations, rules and regulations, and other bilateral or multilateral agreements.

Moreover, in the last few years, we have also started working with local communities and civil society organisations (CSOs). We noticed that when communities are aware of their rights and are able to advocate for their own protection, they also contribute to the change in AGDAs’ attitudes, policies, and practices. This is why it’s particularly important to include a wide variety of community members, especially minorities and those most vulnerable.

In the last decades, the nature and dynamics of armed conflict have significantly changed. Current figures reveal that the number of armed conflicts and of armed groups and de facto authorities (AGDAs) has increased steadily over the past ten years becoming two or three times more than in 2010. In addition, these actors usually exercise control, and at times state-like governance, on territories where millions of people are living. Therefore, the challenges to securing and maintaining comprehensive humanitarian access have dramatically grown in number and complexity making humanitarian engagement with such actors more relevant than ever.

When working in complex conflict systems, a critical question is how to best contribute to positive substantive shifts in these systems. As such, the involvement of as many diverse actors in the parties to conflict is required. A comprehensive approach to security and humanitarian access requires a gender and intersectional mainstreaming approach in a systemic way, as we know that conflict exacerbates existing gender inequalities and increases risk of gender-based violence.

The complexity of current armed conflicts and the great variety of armed groups and de facto authorities with different levels of organization and command structures have pointed to a great need for widespread training and awareness of international humanitarian norms.

Against this background, Geneva Call, as a neutral, independent, and impartial humanitarian organization is allowed to operate in situations of armed conflict based on Common Article 3 to all the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which represents the cornerstone of our activities.