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Interview with Geneva Call on their new ‘Fighter not Killer’ mobile phone application

June 19, 2015

Fighter not killerA few weeks ago, some of you may have seen that Geneva Call launched a new mobile application quiz called ‘Fighter not Killer‘ which aims to raise awareness of the laws of war among armed groups. If you haven’t already downloaded the app onto your phone, you should as it is a really interesting and impressive attempt to disseminate core rules of IHL through a clear and engaging medium. Links to the app can be found here for iphone users and here for android phone users.

Intrigued by the concepts and thinking behind this tool, I asked Nicolas Sion at Geneva Call some questions about the app and his answers are published below:-

Where did the idea of the ‘Fighter not Killer’ app come from?

Geneva Call’s mission is to engage with armed groups to encourage them to respect International Humanitarian Law (IHL). When Geneva Call’s representatives go the field and meet armed non-State actors (ANSAs) to disseminate IHL among their rank-and-file, they are faced with considerable difficulties. IHL is enshrined in complex treaties while combatants may have varying levels of education and knowledge of the rules. There is an obvious need to make IHL more accessible and understandable.  They also face difficulties to access areas where they operate. The mobile application can help to overcome these two challenges.

We did not want to do an encyclopaedia, but rather an entertaining quiz that would raise the attention of combatants and make sense to them.

We also realized that many fighters and leaders of armed groups in Sudan, Syria, Burma/Myanmar or Democratic Republic of Congo do have smartphones even in the most remote areas.  It’s also a media on which people spend an increasing amount of time even in countries affected by armed conflict.

Why is the app called ‘Fighter not Killer’?

The app complements the video campaign “Fighter not Killer” that was launched two years ago in Syria with short TV spots. We tried to find a name for this campaign that would have an impact in terms of visibility as we wanted to disseminate IHL to ANSAs, but also to the civil society.

We wanted to highlight the fact that it is possible to be a fighter who respects human dignity and IHL compared to a killer who doesn’t care about IHL.

Considering Geneva Call’s work with armed groups, is the app principally aimed for members of armed groups? Or is it also suitable/ intended for students of IHL? Did you have a particular target audience in mind?

The first targets are the members of armed groups that we are engaging with. Geneva Call currently has a dialogue with more than 50 armed groups in 15 countries. We are now discussing with some of them how we can disseminate the app to their rank and file. For example, in Syria, the YPG-YPJ the main Kurdish armed forces, announced they will install it on all mobile phone sold on their territories. Other armed groups from Sudan and DRC have showed interest in it.

The second target is the civil society, NGOs and local communities in conflict-affected countries. The more people know about the law of armed conflict the better it can be respected. Local communities can have a strong influence on the behaviour of ANSAs.

We also have a third target, the general public: few people know that during conflict there are rules to respect and even less people have a basic knowledge of these rules. A mobile quiz is a good tool to educate people on IHL. We have also presented the app to international law students, it is a good way to draw their attention to the reality of the field.

Does the ‘Fighter not Killer’ app draw exclusively on rules that are common to international and non-international armed conflicts?

Not exclusively. The app is based on the customary international humanitarian law applicable in NIACs. Some rules on detention are not the same in IACs and NIACs since there is no prisoner of war status in NIACs. In the quiz however, there are questions on detention issues, which would have a different answer in an IAC.

How did you set about developing the scenarios that are dealt with in the app?

Most of the scenarios presented in this quiz are real questions that came from ANSAs themselves when our colleagues go and meet them in the field. Therefore they all are very realistic. At the same time, we wanted them to be accurate: they were written by our (then) legal adviser and reviewed by a committee of IHL experts.

Can you provide an example of a scenario which is dealt with by the app?

At a shop, the clerk tells you that she wants to join your organization. Your organization has made a commitment to not recruit or use children under 18. You ask how old she is. She says “18”.  You can’t tell if she’s 16 or 18, but you need recruits, and if she says so…

Do you need to verify her age?

Yes

Correct. If in doubt you must take measures to verify the age of recruits.

You ask to see her birth certificate. She says she doesn’t have one, but she can undergo a medical examination.

Can you accept the results of the medical examination as proof of age?

No

Correct. Medical assessments are not reliable enough to prove age.

She tells you she came from a province where all the records were destroyed in the previous conflict. But she can get notes from the village mayor, her parents and school teachers.

If she provides all of these notes, and they are authentic, can you accept them as proof of age?

Yes

Correct. If official documents are unavailable, multiple sources should be used to confirm age.

Do you think that there is potential for phone apps or computer games to be used more often in the dissemination of IHL?

The use of smartphones has increased significantly in the past few years even in conflict-affected areas and is expected to increase further. Although mobile technology use to disseminate and promote law is increasing, its potential is still under-utilized

What was the greatest challenge for you in developing the app?

The main challenge was to find yes-or-no IHL scenarios. IHL doesn’t always provide two-fold answers, we had to find a way to make them simple but remaining accurate. We also had to be cautious when it came to say that yes, IHL in some specific cases allow to target a child soldier or a hospital. The quiz is not limited to a yes/no answer, but an explanation on the rules of IHL related to the scenario is provided to the user as soon as he is selecting a reply.

According to the Google Play app store, the app has already had over 500 downloads. Do you have any means of tracking the extent to which the app is being used in conflict zones?

Yes. We know in which countries and areas the app has been downloaded, Google Play and Apple stores provide us with this information. However, until now it has been downloaded mainly in Europe and we are planning more dissemination in the field over the coming month in particular in the Middle East and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In some areas where the internet connection can be weak, we will provide the app file directly so they don’t have to download it.

Many thanks to Nicolas for answering my questions! If you wish to obtain more information about the ‘Fighter not Killer’ app, you can contact Nicolas Sion at or Annyssa Bellal at Geneva Call.

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