Improving Protection of Persons with Disabilities during Armed Conflict

What are the legal obligations to protect and assist persons with disabilities during conflict and what are the policies and practices required to put these obligations into effect?

Project Summary

Over one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of disability, half of which are in states affected by armed conflict. Conflict not only directly results in disability, persons with disabilities are at higher risk of injury or death during armed conflict, either as specific targets or through inability to protect themselves. In contrast to other vulnerable groups – such as children, women and ethnic minorities – comparatively little political, academic or media attention has been paid to the subject.

To date, no research has been conducted on the medical and social needs of persons living with disabilities in situations of armed violence, nor on the precise scope and extent of the obligations defined in Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  We also lack knowledge on the operational policies and procedures necessary to put the legal obligations of the states parties into effect.

This multidisciplinary applied research project fills these gaps. It will provide detailed explanations and analysis of legal obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international disability rights law, international refugee law and weapons law. Case studies include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Palestine, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

The research results will provide information for academic and policy communities, states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, armed non-state actors, humanitarian organisations and persons with disabilities and their carers with the objective to ensure better protection and assistance to persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict or its aftermath.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Disability and Armed Conflict

This report is a consolidated version of the Geneva Academy Briefing ‘Disability and Armed Conflict’ which is the final output of the SNIS funded research project ‘Improving the Protection of Persons with Disabilities in Armed Conflict. The Academy Briefing sets out, in detail: the projects three hypothesis’, research questions, plan and methodology; the impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities; the models adopted to understand and respond to disability; the CRPD and its key features; the modes of application of the CRPD in differing conflict settings (including international armed conflict, non-international armed conflict, and occupation by states as well as armed-non state actors), and analysis of a selection of international humanitarian law norms from a disability inclusive perspective. The overarching findings and recommendations that are identified at the end of this report are identical to those contained in the Geneva Academy Briefing. Readers who wish to learn more about the project and its findings and recommendations should refer to the Geneva Academy Briefing.

Executive Summary

Approximately one billion people haves some form of disability, involving sensory, psychosocial, physical and/or intellectual impairments. Many of who live in conflict affected states. Conflict has devastating impact on persons with disabilities who are killed and sustain serious injuries as a result of being targeted, incidental victims of attacks, or after being left behind as others flee the violence owing to inaccessible emergency information and evacuation procedures. Persons with disabilities are often excluded from humanitarian services such as food, shelter and medical care and face increased risk of conflict-related sexual and gender based violence. Despite the devastating impact armed conflict has on persons with disabilities, they remain the forgotten victims of armed conflict. This research project brings awareness to this much-overlooked topic and explores the international humanitarian law and human rights obligations of states, armed non-state actors and humanitarian organizations towards persons with disabilities and makes a number of recommendations on how these obligations can be better met to ensure that in the conflict setting, no one is left behind.

Research Team

Andrew Clapham
The Graduate Institute

David Shaw
Universität Basel

Anyssa Bellal
Principal Member
The Graduate Institute

Nathalie Herlemont Zoritchak
Principal Member

Aude Brus
Principal Member
Handicap International

Alice Priddy
Principal Member
The Graduate Institute

Catalina Davandas
Associated Member

Anita Riecher-Rössler
Associated Member







Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Palestine, Ukraine, Vietnam

Host Institution