The Way Forward on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities During Armed Conflict

On 3-4 October, 2019, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute hosted an international workshop in Lund* focused on the intersection between international humanitarian law (IHL), human rights law as it applies to the  protection of persons with disabilities during armed conflicts.

The workshop brought together international experts from around the world to develop a future agenda to address the protection needs of persons with disabilities within IHL and in the context of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). It was the first ever such event supported by the Science and Peace Programme of NATO (SPS). It contributed to an ongoing conversation on the topic launched by the UN Security Council in June 2019.

The numbers alone are staggering. An estimated 15% of any given population has a disability – making 1 billion overall in the world. That means that approximately 15% of the civilian population affected by armed conflict anywhere in the world have a disability. Persons with disabilities are disproportionately at risk relative to their peers in conflict contexts. They are often overlooked when it comes to civilian protection during armed conflict. The main theme running throughout the two days was the invisibility of persons with disabilities in IHL rules dealing with the conduct of armed conflict, the protection of civilians, rescue and evacuation measures and humanitarian relief. Article 11 of the UN disability treaty effectively requires that this invisibility be ended in IHL.

The workshop explored the intersectional relationship between IHL and the CRPD and, further, considered the operational implications of that intersection for humanitarian action and response.

The first day primarily focused on framing the issue, observations from the field and the risks associated with different categories of disabilities. On the second day, emphasis was placed on the implications of UNCRPD, Article 11 and discussions on how a new Agenda for the Protections of Persons with Disabilities in Conflicts might look. A book based on the proceedings is planned.

Three participants share their key takeaways from the workshop regarding continued discourse and operational implications for the protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict:


Facundo Chavez Penillas, Human Rights and Disability Advisor, OHCHR, Geneva


  I think it’s a very interesting moment in terms of linking International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law practically in relationship to the rights of persons with disabilities. And one of the things that we expect from this seminar is to come up with a common vision of the next steps that would benefit these conversations that are currently ongoing.


Samer Muscati, Associate Director of the Disability Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There is such an important role for civil society and for academia to play in making sure that persons with disabilities have all their rights protected and respected in armed conflicts situations. It’s a huge opportunity for us to engage with policymakers and others to make sure that these rights are at the forefront of policy. 

According to Janet E. Lord, “the adoption of a UN Security Council Resolution on Persons with Disabilities in Armed Conflict this year suggests that civilian protection of persons with disabilities is now on the radar screen of states parties to the Convention on Persons with Disabilities. The time is right to start looking at and gathering data and evidence on the impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities.”


 Janet E Lord, Senior Fellow Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Cambridge

I think one of the key takeaways for me is that we are now at a point where we can really elevate the conversation around the inclusion of persons with disabilities and their protection as civilians in armed conflict. […] We should amplify the implementation of Article 11 and the Convention on Persons with Disabilities in operational terms. It’s time to press forward towards the adaption, for example, of a NATO policy specifically on the protection of persons with disabilities.

*This workshop was co-funded by the Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS) of NATO, University of Lund, Law Faculty, Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Sweden and in association with the Lund University, Faculty of Law; European Disability Forum; U.S. International Council on Disabilities, and LUMOS.

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