Accessibility statement

Professor Ioana Cismas
Co-Director of the Centre for Applied Human Rights



An international law scholar, Professor Ioana Cismas teaches, conducts research and provides legal and policy advice in public international law, human rights law, international humanitarian law, law and religion, and transitional justice. Ioana joined the York Law School and the Centre for Applied Human Rights as a senior lecturer in October 2017. In 2020, she was promoted to Reader. She is the joint programme leader of the LLM in International Human Rights Law and Practice.

Ioana’s research is applied, interdisciplinary, collaborative and geared towards impact generation. Her work has attracted substantial research grants from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS), and several non-governmental organisations and charities. Currently, she leads the ESRC-funded research project Generating Respect for Humanitarian Norms: The Influence of Religious Leaders on Parties to Armed Conflict, which draws on the theoretical framework developed in Religious Actors and International Law (OUP 2014). She also co-coordinates the SNIS-funded project Noma, The Neglected Disease. An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Its Realities, Burden, and Framing.

Prior to joining York, Ioana lectured at Stirling Law School (2015-2017), was a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law (2014), and a research fellow at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights (2009-2013). At the Geneva Academy, she set up and coordinated the Law Clinic on Transitional Justice.

Ioana consults for international, non - and governmental organizations. In 2013, she served as consultant to the UN Special Rapporteur on transitional justice at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. From 2009-2012, she was legal advisor to a member of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council and drafted several studies for the Committee on discrimination in the context of the right to food and noma.

Ioana holds a PhD in International Law (summa cum laude) from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.



Professor Ioana Cismas’ research interests span the broad discipline of public international law, the specialist branches of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and related fields, such as law and religion and transitional justice. Ioana’s research seeks to theorize the status and roles of different types of state and non-state actors in international law and explores the intersections between legal accountability and legitimacy. Her projects employ doctrinal, socio-legal, interdisciplinary and empirical research methods.


Generating Respect for Humanitarian Norms: The Influence of Religious Leaders on Parties to Armed Conflict (2020-2022)

Funded by a large ESCR grant, this three-year project proposes a novel approach to generating norm-compliance in times of armed conflict. It examines the role that religious leaders (can) play in influencing state and non-state armed actors to internalise humanitarian norms with the ultimate aim of enhancing the protection of members of communities affected by war.

Led by Professor Ioana Cismas (PI) and Ezequiel Heffes (CoI), the research is implemented by a team of seven researchers and professional support staff in close partnership with the humanitarian organisation Geneva Call and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Diakonia Global International Humanitarian Law Centre, and the Observatory on International Humanitarian Law of the University of Buenos Aires.

Researchers will conduct a mapping of the roles played by religious leaders in armed conflicts in Colombia Libya, Mali, Myanmar and undertake extensive periods of fieldwork. In addition to scholarly outputs, the research findings will be used to craft Guidelines for the Effective Humanitarian Engagement with Religious Leaders, which should assist humanitarian organisations to engage with religious actors on the ground. The perspectives of religious leaders on the role they can play to 'humanise' war, and those of members of affected communities, will be portrayed to wider audiences through digital stories (short recordings with audio, video, photographic and textual material).

Noma, The Neglected Disease. An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Its Realities, Burden, and Framing (2019-2021)

Noma (cancrum oris) is a gangrenous disease that predominantly affects young children living in conditions of extreme poverty. Noma starts in the mouth, spreading rapidly and destroying skin, muscles and bones. While the disease is preventable and inexpensive to treat if identified early on, the majority of children likely do not receive medical attention or receive it too late to save their faces and often their lives. Estimated at 90%, noma has one of the highest mortality rates. Child and adult survivors suffer significant aesthetic and functional after-effects and are reported to go through intense social isolation, stigmatisation and discrimination.

Funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies and benefitting of generous financial and/or collaborative support from several governmental, inter- and non-governmental bodies, this interdisciplinary project is co-ordinated by Professor Emmanuel Kabengele (Geneva) and co-coordinated by Dr Ioana Cismas (York) and Dr Thomas Fürst (Basel). The research seeks to establish noma’s epidemiology and global burden, to portray the experiences of child and adult noma survivors, and to evaluate the implications of the framing of noma as a human rights issue and neglected tropical disease (NTD). Alice Trotter (PhD student at York Law School) and Dr Cismas lead the research package 3 on noma’s framing as a human rights violation and NTD. The project’s findings will be disseminated through scholarly articles, policy papers and the preparation of an advocacy dossier for the inclusion of noma in the World Health Organisation NTD list.

Ioana’s recently completed projects include:

  • An examination of freedom of religion or belief and freedom of association as intersecting rights in the jurisprudence of the European Convention on Human Rights mechanisms. A book chapter demonstrates that the interaction of these rights has enhanced the protection of religious collectivities (groups or legal entities), yet also argues that, in doing so, at times it has weakened the claims of individuals of which they are comprised.
  • A socio-legal analysis of the position on abortion of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The ensuing book chapter focuses on the dialectic interplay on the topic between the OIC and its member states, and between the OIC’s normative position, as this emerges from the organization’s legal instruments and its institutional stance as revealed by discourses made on the global stage by OIC representatives.
  • Work in the area of Business & Human Rights:
    • An amicus brief (co-written with De Annalisa Savaresi and Dr Jacques Hartmann) on the human rights impacts of climate change submitted to the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines in the context of the “carbon majors” inquiry.
    • A book chapter (co-authored with Sarah Macrory) exploring the UN Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises and the proposed Arbitration Tribunal on Business and Human Rights as procedures that might present victims of corporate human rights violations with a remedy, while also reflecting on whether these redress procedures predate binding corporate obligations under international human rights law.


Ioana is happy to consider supervision of PhD dissertations in the following areas: 

  • Public International Law 
  • Human Rights Law (in particular at international and regional levels, and relating to economic, social and cultural rights) 
  • International Humanitarian Law 
  • Transitional Justice 
  • Law and Religion 
  • Non-State Actors and International Law (including Business & Human Rights, and the accountability of international organisations)


Full publications list


Religious Actors and International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 

Recent Journal Articles and Book Chapters (single authored unless otherwise stated)

‘Not the Usual Suspects: Religious Leaders as Influencers of International Humanitarian Law’, Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law 22 (forthcoming 2020) (with Ezequiel Heffes).

‘Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Association: Intersecting Rights in the Jurisprudence of the European Convention Mechanisms’, in Jeroen Temperman, Jeremy and Malcolm Evans (eds.) The European Court of Human Rights and the Freedom of Religion or Belief: The 25 Years since Kokkinakis (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 260 – 281.

‘The Position of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Abortion: Not Too Bad, Ugly, or Just Confusing?’ in Marie Juul Petersen and Turan Kayaoglu (eds), The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), 166 – 197.

‘The Business and Human Rights Regime under International Law: Remedy without Law?; in James Summers and Alex Gough (eds) Non-State Actors and International Obligations: Creation, Evolution and Enforcement (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 224 – 260 (with Sarah Macrory).

'Remedy Without Binding Law: Curiosities from the World of Business and Human Rights' in James Summers (ed.), Non-State Actors and International Obligations (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, forthcoming 2018), 27pp (with Sarah Macrory).

'The Position of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Abortion: Not Too Bad, Ugly, or Just Confusing?' in Turan Kayaoglu and Marie Juul Petersen (eds.), The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, in press, forthcoming 2017), 34 pp.

'Reflections on the Presence and Absence of Religious Actors in Transitional Justice Processes: On Legitimacy and Accountability' in Roger Duthie and Paul Seils (eds.) Justice Mosaics: How Context Shapes Transitional Justice in Fractured Societies (New York: ICTJ, 2017), 302 – 343.

'Whose Right and Who's Right? The US Supreme Court v. The European Court of Human Rights on Corporate Exercise of Religion', 34Boston University International Law Journal 1 (2016), 2 – 44 (with Stacy Cammarano).

'The Child's Best Interests and Religion: A Case Study of the Holy See's Best Interests Obligations and Clerical Child Sexual Abuse', in Elaine E. Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Macfarlane Barnes (eds.), Implementing Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Best Interests, Welfare and Well-being, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 310 – 325.

'Large-Scale Land Acquisitions in Cambodia: Where Do (Human Rights) Law and Practice Meet?', 6 Revue internationale de politique de développement / International Development Policy 1 (2015), 231 – 246 (with Patricia Paramita).

'The Role of the UN Special Rapporteur in the Development of the Right to Food: Legitimation Through Clarification?' in Marco Gestri (ed.). Cibo e Diritto: Dalla Dichiarazione Universale alla Carta di Milano (Modena: Stem Muchi editore, 2015), 45 – 56.

'The Intersection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights', in Eibe Riedel, Gilles Giacca, and Christophe Golay (eds.), Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 448 – 472.

'The Right to Food Beyond De-Mythification: Time to Shed the Inferiority Complex of Socio-Economic Rights', 5 Global Policy 4 (2014), 474 – 476.

'Introductory Note to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding Observations on the Second Periodic Report of the Holy See', 53 International Legal Materials 3 (2014), 580 – 596.

'The Integration of Human Rights in Bilateral and Plurilateral Free Trade Agreements: Arguments for a Coherent Relationship with Reference to the Swiss Context', 21 Currents: International Trade Law Journal 2 (2013), 3 – 20.

'The Impact of UN Special Procedures on the Development and Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights', 15 International Journal of Human Rights 2 (2011), 299 – 318 (with Christophe Golay and Claire Mahon).

'Introductory Note to the Statute of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission', 5 International Legal Materials 6 (2011), 1148 – 1160.

'Secession in Theory and Practice: The Case of Kosovo and Beyond', 2 Goettingen Journal of International Law 2 (2010), 531 – 587.

'The OSCE in the European Security Environment – Questioning the Compatibility of Goal and Structure', in Zlatko Sabic et al (eds.), Global Impact of Regional International Organizations (Wroclaw: Adam Marszalek, 2009), 49 – 75.

Legal opinions, amici curiae, commissioned studies

Amicus Brief – Human Rights and Climate Change. Submission in Support of Petitioners, Petition Requesting an Investigation of the Responsibility of the Carbon Majors for Human Rights Violations or Threats of Violations Resulting from the Impacts of Climate Change, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines Case No.: CHR-NI-2016-0001 (Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, 2017), 26pp (with Annalisa Savaresi and Jacques Hartmann).

Concept Note in Support of the Inclusion of Noma (Cancrum Oris) on the World Health Organization List of Neglected Tropical Diseases (Commissioned by the Government of Namibia, 2016), 6 pp. (with Marie-Solène Adamou Moussa-Pham).

The Intersection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights: Lessons from Other Jurisdictions and Opportunities for the Swiss Context (Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2012), 37 pp.

The Better Integration of Human Rights in the Negotiations of Bilateral Free Trade Agreements of Switzerland (Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2011), 31 pp. (with Christophe Golay).

Legal Opinion: The Right to Property from a Human Rights Perspective, (Montreal: International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, 2010), 31 pp. (with Christophe Golay). 




  •  The Modern Actors of International Law (module convenor)


  • Applying International Human Rights Law (module convenor)
  • The Modern Actors of International Law (module convenor)
  • Human Rights Placement (project supervision)


  • 2018 Graduate Students’ Association ‘Making Postgrads Matter’ Award, University of York
  • 2016 RATE Award for Excellence in Teaching, University of Stirling
  • 2013 Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching - Awarded for the Transitional Justice Law Clinic by the charity arm of Credit Suisse. The prize rewards ‘pedagogical innovations’ in Swiss higher education.

External activities


  • International Law Association – Rapporteur of the ILA Committee on Human Rights in Times of Emergency & Members of the Study Group on the Role of Cities in International Law
  • European Society of International Law 
  • American Society of International Law
  • Society of Legal Scholars
  • Economic and Social Rights Academic Network UK and Ireland (ESRAN-UKI)
  • UK and Ireland Transitional Justice Network
  • ESRC Peer Review college
  • External examiner, University of Lancaster (LLB Law)

Contact details

Professor Ioana Cismas
Centre for Applied Human Rights
University of York
6 Innovation Close
YO10 5ZF

Tel: +44 (0)1904 325833

Office hours beginning the 25th of September 2023

Monday 12-2pm

(Semester 1) 

For an appointment please email