Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

The Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) aims to reduce the harm caused by armed conflict through targeted advocacy, leadership development, and the generation of innovative solutions. Grounded in principles of dignity and humanity, the ACCPI adopts an interdisciplinary approach that draws on multiple legal bodies to achieve its ends.

The ACCPI has been established to advance civilian protection at a critical moment in its history. Due to the intentional targeting of civilians, combatants’ blending with the local population, the prevalence of urban warfare, and the evolution of weapons technology, civilians now bear the brunt of the armed conflict. At the same time, concern for civilian protection continues to grow, as evidenced by evolving legal and social norms.

Housed in Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), the ACCPI is directed by Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection. Other clinicians contribute through their clinical projects and the organization of related events.

The ACCPI promotes civilian protection through three pillars of activity: effecting change through advocacy, cultivating future leaders, and promoting innovation.

Effecting Change Through Advocacy

The ACCPI increases the protection of civilians in armed conflict through cutting-edge advocacy tied to its clinical work.

Nicolette Waldman, JD ’13, now a researcher with Amnesty International in Iraq, examines a cluster munition during a field visit to a Lebanese village.

It strives to prevent and remediate the physical, psychological, and socioeconomic harm caused by inhumane weapons and problematic tactics of war. It addresses the needs of civilians intentionally targeted or caught in the crossfire as well as those forced to flee a conflict zone.

While the ACCPI takes a broad view of civilian protection, a major area of focus is humanitarian disarmament, which strives to prohibit or regulate weapons in order to reduce civilian suffering. The ACCPI works to ensure the effectiveness of existing treaties banning nuclear weapons and cluster munitions, both of which IHRC helped negotiate. The ACCPI advocates for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons (aka “killer robots”) and stronger international law on incendiary weapons and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It strives to build civilian protection norms in other areas, including refugee law and victim assistance.

In its advocacy, the ACCPI partners with a number of nongovernmental organizations, such as Article 36Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and PAX. It has also provided legal assistance to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which received 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

Cultivating Future Leaders

The ACCPI grooms the next generation of civilian protection advocates by engaging students in all aspects of its work.

Clinical Instructor Anna Crowe (second from left) and Docherty, with students and other advocates, moments after adoption of the nuclear weapon ban treaty on July 7, 2017.

Through classes and clinical projects, it shows students the human costs of armed conflict and how civil society can successfully reduce them. It creates a community for students with common interests and provides a track of particularized training and experience for those who wish to pursue careers in the field. The ACCPI is in the process of developing a database of organizations interested in hosting Harvard Law students as well as a network of alumni in the field.

Promoting Innovation

To generate fresh perspectives on and creative strategies for lessening the harms of war, the ACCPI fosters dialogue among experts from different organizations, sectors, and parts of the world. It organizes international conferences on contemporary armed conflict matters, consisting of private strategy workshops and public presentations. In addition, the ACCPI sponsors lectures, panels, and brown-bag lunches that address more focused topics related to civilian protection and armed conflict. This pillar of the ACCPI provides opportunities for students to interact with practitioners, while giving practitioners fora in which to develop new ways to enhance their advocacy.