The Interview | Gloria Gaggioli


Could you tell us briefly what your organization does? What is your role? What is your goal?

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights is a research institute that aims to develop and disseminate knowledge about all aspects of international law relating to armed conflict, post-conflict situations and protracted violence, including acts of terrorism. Our ultimate goal is to provide robust and comprehensive legal protection for victims of conflict and violence.

The Academy is one of a few institutions that take a cross-cutting approach to international law. What this means is that we stress the complementarity and interconnectedness of humanitarian law, human rights, international criminal law and refugee law in order to provide people with the optimal level of protection.

In practice, we educate future leaders in the field of humanitarian action in the broadest sense. We also conduct academic and applied research to inform public debate and influence policymaking within governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and companies. The Academy currently focuses on four main areas of research: 1) digitization and emerging technologies; 2) non-state actors; 3) implementation and accountability; 4) sustainable development.

My role is to ensure that the Academy remains a key player in international Geneva as well as a hub for current and future experts in human rights and humanitarian law. I also make sure that innovation is integral to everything we do, in order to maintain the excellence in teaching and research that we are known for.

My objective is for the Academy to be the first place a recent graduate or practitioner thinks of when choosing to pursue postgraduate training in humanitarian and human rights law, as well as the top pick for academics who don’t want their research to languish in a library, but rather to have a direct impact on decision-makers and help improve the way victims of armed conflict, protracted violence and instability are protected on the ground.



Among the concentration of actors in Geneva (OIs, NGOs, permanent missions, academia, and the private sector), who do you work with and how?

The Academy was established jointly by the Graduate Institute and the University of Geneva, so we work closely with both institutions. Our programs are taught by professors from both universities, alongside visiting academics and global experts. We also work closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR, and dozens of NGOs active in our area of expertise.

These collaborations take many different forms, such as joint research projects, events, short training courses, and sharing our expertise in roundtables and the like. Since 2019, the Geneva Human Rights Platform has helped strengthen collaboration in the domain of human rights between various stakeholders – experts, practitioners, diplomats, and civil society – through the Academy, by providing a dynamic forum where current issues and challenges can be discussed and debated. With the support of academic and applied research, this enables stakeholders to connect and break down silos, thereby advancing human rights. We are also in constant contact with governments, who play a principal role in advancing human rights and ensuring the respect of humanitarian law in conflict situations around the globe. It is important to note that Switzerland has historically played a key part in promoting humanitarian law and how the Swiss government has been a major supporter and partner of the Academy from the start.



What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geneva with regards to the development of your activity?

Geneva's main strength is its role as a hub for human rights and humanitarian law. Geneva hosts the headquarters of the ICRC, various bodies that monitor human rights globally – including the Human Rights Council and most of the treaty bodies – and dozens of NGOs active in humanitarian aid more broadly. In addition to being an extraordinarily international city, Geneva also embodies the central values of Switzerland, namely: peace and respect for the human person at all times, including during armed conflict – Switzerland is the depositary of the Geneva Conventions – and welcoming refugees, facilitating dialogue, as illustrated by the recent Biden–Putin summit in Geneva and by the nation's readiness to offer its good offices in the context of the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that Geneva will, and must, remain a key centre for humanitarian action in the future.

I don't think Geneva has any "weaknesses" in this respect. However, societies are undergoing rapid change. For one, the Covid-19 pandemic has relegated us all behind our screens and made it much harder to engage in face-to-face, in-person interactions. Similarly, travel has been cancelled or curtailed, and the future is full of uncertainty. There is a growing tendency to look inward, which is reflected in international relations by a step towards regionalization (although this trend has always been present in the human rights arena and has been a helpful complement rather than a threat to universal human rights). Another challenge is that international stakeholders, especially states, find it increasingly difficult to reach a consensus. What this implies for the development of humanitarian law is greater decentralization, a process in which experts work independently from each other to clarify or progressively develop the law. Geneva will continue to be an essential hub, but it won't be the only one


What do you think global governance should look like 20 or 30 years from now?

Global governance should be participatory, inclusive, united, and centred on the protection and respect of individuals and, more broadly, all living things and the environment that sustains them. The challenges facing us today – the Covid-19 pandemic and global warming chief among them – are proof that only concerted action by the international community across national and regional boundaries can provide solutions. Likewise, the worldwide impact of inequality at a global level, of long-term conflicts like the one in Afghanistan, and terrorism should push the international community to overcome its differences to become more effective. Emerging technologies will undoubtedly be omnipresent and should be used to improve living conditions, bearing in mind their potentially devastating consequences if they are not effectively regulated. We are already facing some of these issues today with autonomous weapon systems and mass online surveillance online, for instance.


Gloria Gaggioli's biography

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