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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. Clinical Instructor Anna Crowe is actively involved in all aspects of its mandate. Other clinicians will 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. 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 36, Human 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.

Recent publications include: 

Recognizing Nairobi’s Refugees, International Human Rights Clinic, the Norwegian Refugee Council Kenya, November 2017
Operating Under Fire: Explosive Weapons on Health Care in the East of Ukraine, International Human Rights Clinic, PAX, May 2017
Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban, International Human Rights Clinic, Human Rights Watch, December 2016


Cultivating Future Leaders

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

Recent courses include:

Armed Conflict and Humanitarian Protection
Combating the Human Costs of Armed Conflict
The Promises and Challenges of Disarmament
Armed Conflict and World Heritage: Reading Group


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. 

Recent events include:

Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead, Harvard Law School, Upcoming
Banning Nuclear Weapons: A Milestone for Disarmament, Harvard Law School, April 2017 (see video)
Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, Harvard Law School, April 2017
Acknowledge, Amend, Assist: Addressing Civilian Harm Caused by Armed Violence and Armed Conflict, Harvard Law School, October 2013 (see report)

* Photos in above gallery by United Nations Office at Geneva (left) and Bonnie Docherty (remaining three).