New consortium awarded £5 million to research ways to prevent and reduce civilian suffering in armed conflicts around the world

News | Posted on Monday 27 November 2023

A new consortium of academics and practitioners led by the University of York has been awarded up to £5 million by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to research ways to prevent and reduce civilian suffering in armed conflicts around the world.

Mountains in the Valle del Cauca region, between Santander de Quilichao et Popayan. FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) combatants. Photograph by Boris Heger © ICRC

The Beyond Compliance Consortium

The Beyond Compliance Consortium is a co-productive partnership between the University of York (Ioana Cismas, Principal Investigator), the University of Glasgow (Rebecca Sutton, Co-Investigator), Utrecht University (Katharine Fortin, Co-Investigator), and six humanitarian NGOs, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Ezequiel Heffes, Co-Investigator), War Child UK, Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Centre on Armed Groups and Fight for Humanity. 

Centering civilians’ experiences of conflict

One needs to look no further than the daily headlines to see the devastating civilian toll of armed conflict in the world. In 2022 alone, almost 94 per cent of the victims of explosive weapons used in populated areas were civilians. In the same year, over 100 million people were forcibly displaced or pushed into acute food insecurity and almost 24,000 grave violations of children’s rights were documented. 

The Consortium’s interdisciplinary programme of research centres civilians’ experiences of conflict. Through this lens, the research explores the inter-relationship between humanitarian need and civilian harm, and armed actors’ compliance with norms and restraint from violence. Developed over three years, the research will provide strategic understanding of what factors, processes and influencers shape a wide range of armed actors’ behaviour. The overarching aim is to develop tangible ways to influence these behaviours in order to ensure better outcomes for civilian populations.

The research programme’s ambitions

Ioana Cismas, Professor at York Law School and Co-director of the Centre for Applied Human Rights, who leads the Consortium, said:  “The research is grounded in and responds to the reality of war. Working co-productively with humanitarian organisations and the FCDO, we aim to generate new ways of thinking that translate into practical, effective tools that policy-makers, operational actors, and civilian communities themselves can employ in their humanitarian efforts.”

Rebecca Sutton, University of Glasgow, said: “The urgent challenges that communities caught up in armed conflict are facing right now cannot be met by any single actor, nor by one body of law. This academic-practitioner collaboration will focus on the everyday lived experience of armed conflict, with the shared ambition of better understanding – and addressing – the drivers of humanitarian need and civilian harm in war”.

Katharine Fortin, Utrecht University, said: “There is still much to be learnt on how international humanitarian law and other legal regimes applicable in armed conflict capture the lived experiences of civilians in armed conflict, and the potential of different actors, including civilian communities to contribute to a compliance ecosystem which is defined not only by restraint but also protection.”

Ezequiel Heffes, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, said: “By delving into the nuances of compliance and restraint in armed conflict, the programme will provide invaluable insights to everyone trying to understand how States and non-State armed groups operate. Understanding these dynamics is paramount, as it can serve to mitigate the devastating impact conflicts have on civilian populations around the globe.” 

Notes to editors:

For any media inquiries, please contact Alistair Keely via  or 07795315029.