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International Law

Improving the Protection of Persons with Disabilities during Armed Conflict

  • Timeline: Findings were published in autumn 2018
  • Keywords: disability, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, armed conflict
  • Funding Organisation: Swiss Network for International Studies


Approximately 500 million people with disabilities live in states affected by armed conflict. Conflict not only renders someone disabled directly, e.g. when a landmine blast amputates a leg, it also inflicts indirect harm since persons with disabilities may face physical and/or communication barriers to accessing emergency information and humanitarian assistance, rendering them more vulnerable to harm and potentially exacerbating a pre-existing impairment. Persons with disabilities are also at a higher risk of injury or death during periods of armed conflict, either as specific targets or through the inability to protect themselves. Yet persons with disabilities are too often the forgotten victims of armed conflict.

This project aims to ensure better protection of and assistance for persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict or its aftermath by identifying the legal obligations to protect and assist persons with disabilities during conflict and the policies and practices required to put these obligations into effect. The project will test three hypotheses, the results of which will provide academic and policy communities, states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, armed non-state actors, humanitarian organisations and persons with disabilities with:

1. A previously unavailable and detailed explanation and analysis of legal obligations (under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international disability rights law, international refugee law and weapons law) to protect and assist persons with disabilities during armed conflict and its aftermath;
2. Previously unavailable information concerning the situation of persons with disabilities during armed conflict and its aftermath in five case study states (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Palestine, Ukraine and Vietnam); and
3. An explanation and justification of what laws, policies and practices are required to meet the obligations under (1) and to protect and assist persons with disabilities during and in the aftermath of armed conflict.

For the first time, these hypotheses will be tested by answering a series of research questions in a comparative way. The project’s methodology involves a combination of tailored desk research; field research including interviews of persons with disabilities, their carers and humanitarian personnel; and field workshops to disseminate and test preliminary findings, seek feedback on discrete issues and empower stakeholders. It will involve multidisciplinary applied research, bringing together: legal, policy and medical expertise; experienced researchers; persons with disabilities living in conflict-affected states; and humanitarian personnel engaged in assessing the needs of persons with disabilities in armed conflict and in its aftermath.


Partners: Handicap International, Institute for Biomedical Ethics (University of Basel), Psychiatric University Clinics Basel, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities