Thematic areas: Humanitarian Norms – Landmine Ban – Medical Care
In February 2022, the armed conflict in Ukraine, ongoing since 2014, escalated into a full-scale international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Over the months that ensued, civilians have been killed and injured at an alarming rate because of the widespread fighting. The affected population, including children, are paying an extremely high price.
An unusual feature of the conflict is the inclusion of a considerable number of foreign, non-traditional, or volunteer fighters that have joined or allied themselves in some capacity to armed forces.
Their knowledge of the rules of war — their rights and obligations, as weapon bearers, under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) — varies widely, reflecting their different backgrounds.
It is imperative to plug those knowledge gaps, so that civilians — along with the places they live in and the humanitarian aid they desperately need — are protected as well as possible.
Geneva Call, which has had a presence in Ukraine since 2018, is responding to this overwhelming need. We have been scaling up our teams and resources to spread awareness of those rights and obligations among all parties to the conflict.
The focus of our efforts is on groups, battalions and units of fighters which have been newly integrated to armed forces. This work aims to reduce a potential to commit IHL and IHRL violations. It does not include investigations of — or publicly calling out — potential violations.
It is a preventive approach, one that complements others’ efforts and responds to the urgent needs of national and local authorities that are not being fully met in any other way.
Geneva Call’s activities in Ukraine
• Engaging all sides
Over the past four years, Geneva Call engaged with weapon bearers and civil society to establish dialogue, raise awareness of the need to protect civilians, and ensure unimpeded humanitarian access.
Our actions follow the humanitarian principle of neutrality that underpins our core mission.
• Increasing knowledge
Already, we have been holding sessions with weapon bearers to raise their awareness about our activities and their basic knowledge of the rights and obligations.
Our training and awareness sessions have reached hundreds of front-line commanders and fighters, who then pass down the information, which indirectly benefits thousands more.
We prioritize reservists and volunteer corps who have never been exposed to humanitarian norms, and, as a result, have limited knowledge of their rights and obligations. We are actively advocating for the integration of IHL at the operational and tactical levels of all fighting units we engage.
• Supporting humanitarian aid
In Ukraine there has been a blurring of the civilian and humanitarian lines. Those who respond to the needs and combatants are often working side by side. All local and international organisations, responding to the needs, are operating in an environment which calls for a minimum basic familiarity with humanitarian norms.
We conduct rapid field training sessions so aid workers also can promote civilian protection when engaging with weapon bearers.
• Extending outreach
We lead workshops on humanitarian norms for local communities along the front lines and for local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). We further engage civilian groups directly through awareness sessions and indirectly through mass media campaigns.
Our intent is to equip them with the ability to promote safety for civilians and aid workers.
• Enhancing awareness
We launched a mass media campaign entitled “War has rules too” to boost the acceptance and understanding of IHL in Ukraine. The campaign has been running in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages, promoting humanitarian norms via social media and a phone app, which includes short videos, articles, photos, quizzes, and other materials.
Our ultimate purpose is to strengthen the respect and compliance with humanitarian principles and contribute to better protection of humanity.
SCALING UP AND EXPANDING geographical outreach and activities closer to frontline hostilities.
Training events on IHL have been held for NEWLY INTEGRATED FORCES AND TERRITORIAL DEFENSE UNITS.
ADVOCATING AND RAISING AWARENESS ON DIFFICULT TOPICS such as Prisoners of War and distinction between civilian and military objects.
DIRECT ENGAGEMENT AND SIGNING of a Unilateral Declaration on Humanitarian Assistance with the Georgian National Legion.
PARTNERING WITH UKRAINIAN civil society on innovative campaign and education on putting IHL into practice.
David Mariano – COUNTRY DIRECTOR