Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

CHRHS Core Research

The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies conducts and facilitates interdisciplinary research on pressing global human rights and humanitarian challenges. Here we highlight the core research projects managed by CHRHS.

Analyzing the Use of Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys

The use of armed escorts for humanitarian convoys remains a contentious practice, with varied approaches across contexts and humanitarian organizations. While guidelines emphasize the necessity of considering alternatives, discrepancies persist in implementation. In response to this challenge, CHRHS has partnered with OCHA's Civil-Military Coordination Service to collect evidence-based analysis to enhance understanding and address inconsistencies.

This research project focuses on the provision of armed escorts for humanitarian convoys. Drawing on a diverse sample of conflict and non-conflict environments across regions, both quantitative and qualitative methodologies will be employed to comprehensively examine current practices. The study's scope encompasses contexts in Asia & the Pacific, Europe, MENA, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.The research aims to inform policy discussions and promote more effective humanitarian convoy management strategies globally.

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda in the Middle East

 The Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda aims to elevate women's participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Despite its inception over two decades ago, women remain marginalized in formal peace processes, with many agreements lacking gender-sensitive provisions. This research project delves into the evolving landscape of WPS in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, exploring women's roles and perceptions within this framework.

Through in-depth interviews with grassroots activists, UN officers, and community members, coupled with surveys targeting higher-level stakeholders, we aim to illuminate the adoption and localization of the WPS agenda in the MENA region. Case studies from select countries will offer insights into regional dynamics and the political utility of the WPS agenda for local women. Our interdisciplinary research team emphasizes collaboration with scholars and practitioners from the MENA region through our Global Fellows program. By centering the voices of those most affected, we strive to validate our findings and promote localized perspectives in humanitarian studies.

This project is generously funded by a Pembroke Faculty Seed Grant.


Investigating Fetal Personhood Laws and Pregnancy Criminalization Post-Dobbs

The 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court ruling not only revoked federal abortion protections but also catalyzed an expanded discourse on fetal personhood. This paradigm shift has profound implications, particularly regarding the criminalization of pregnancy in the post-Dobbs era. Our Birkelund application seeks funding to examine this intersection. Traditionally, pregnancy criminalization, often tied to drug enforcement policies, has disproportionately impacted marginalized groups. Our research aims to understand how fetal personhood statutes influence the frequency and circumstances of pregnancy-related criminalization.

Through the Pregnancy Criminalization Database, we will systematically analyze incidents since Dobbs, exploring trends, demographic patterns, legal frameworks, and punitive measures. Our methodology includes archival research, interviews with legal experts and advocates, and comprehensive data collection from various sources.By fostering research networks and policy discussions, we aim to engage stakeholders and advance advocacy efforts. 

This project is generously funded by the Birkelund Fund through the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. 

Understanding Public Attitudes Towards Civil-Military Coordination in National Pandemic Responses

Despite the "Principle of Last Resort," which advocates for civilian alternatives before military involvement, the utilization of military assets in both international and domestic humanitarian responses is increasing. This trend underscores the need for a deeper understanding of civil-military interactions during emergencies, especially in public health crises, which have been historically understudied. This research project aims to enhance understanding of civilian-military coordination during national pandemic responses, focusing on capacity gaps in public health and education sectors. 

Focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, this research addresses three key themes: perceptions of frontline workers, best practices for coordination, and civilian beneficiaries' views of military involvement. Through KIIs and directed interviews, perspectives of pandemic responders and civilians interacting with military, national guard, and law enforcement will be captured. Additionally, a nationally representative survey will gauge public perceptions and reactions to military involvement scenarios. By adopting a multimethod approach, this research aims to provide insights into effective coordination strategies and inform future pandemic response policies. Ultimately, it seeks to contribute to evidence-based decision-making and improve civilian-military collaboration in public health emergencies.

This project is generously funded by the Birkelund Fund through the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. 

Practical considerations for civil-military interaction during outbreaks & public health emergencies

The evolving landscape of responses to outbreaks and public health emergencies, exemplified by recent events like Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19, underscores the increasing involvement of domestic and foreign militaries in these complex operational environments. Recognizing the unique challenges posed by such scenarios, this project aims to provide practical considerations for guiding civil-military interaction during outbreaks and public health emergencies.

This outputs serve the following purposes: First, to compile pertinent guiding documents, core principles, and context-specific considerations essential for navigating outbreaks and public health emergencies; Second, to offer a structured matrix delineating potential activities during such responses, facilitating informed dialogue and best practices in engaging with military assets when required; Third, to delineate a spectrum of activities inherent to response efforts. This will be accompanied by an assessment of the benefits, drawbacks, and best practices associated with military involvement.

This project is generously funded by and in partnership with the Australian Civil Military Centre. 

Negotiating Humanitarian Access and Civil Military Coordination in Haiti, Ethiopia, and the Western Sahel

This research project investigates humanitarian responses in contexts with heavy involvement of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and assertive state governments, where external humanitarian assistance is obstructed. Focusing on three diverse contexts - Haiti, the Western Sahel, and Ethiopia - the study delves into the role of civilian-military coordination and negotiating in facilitating humanitarian access amidst such challenges.

Key research questions include exploring the tactics employed by assertive states and NSAGs to restrict humanitarian access, examining the impact of such limitations on population well-being and mortality rates, and documenting best practices implemented by humanitarian actors to overcome access barriers. By synthesizing findings into three comprehensive case studies supported by a policy document, this project aims to contribute to evidence-based approaches in navigating humanitarian crises in contexts of restricted access.

This project is generously funded by and in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme.

Baseline Data on Human Rights Sanctions

GloMag Sanctions Database: Baseline Data on Human Rights Sanctions

 This report accompanies the release of the GloMag Sanctions Database (GSD). The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS) at Brown’s Watson Institute provided the resources to develop the dataset, which is designed to assist researchers examining the intersection of sanctions and human rights. The GSD covers the first five years of the Global Magnitsky Act’s sanctions designations (2017-2022) and will be updated periodically. The data is available to download HERE.


Civil-Military-Police Coordination during National Responses to COVID-19

This research project aims to conduct a comparative examination of civil-military-police responses during COVID-19 in Australia, United States and New Zealand. The project contributes evidence to a field where relationships, roles and responsibilities, and leadership structures have historically formed through necessity rather than through an institutionalised approach. This project is funded through generous support from the Australian Government's Civil-Military Centre. Learn More >

Afghan Evacuee Experiences of Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome

In partnership with the Providence-based Refugee Dream Center, this project will document the personal experiences of Afghan civilians who worked with the US military in Afghanistan, and who experienced the evacuation from Kabul. This research project will serve two purposes: 1) to better understand civilian perceptions of working with the US military in a warzone, and 2) to evaluate the immediate needs of this population for successful resettlement in the US. Learn more >

Group in pandemic response study

Public action and the Pandemic: the role of civil society in shaping state responses

This research project aims to systematically document, evaluate, and explain the role that civil society and human rights have played in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic through a multi-country (India, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines, Mexico), qualitative data collection project ocurring over three phases. This project is funded through generous support from American Jewish World Service. Learn More >

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Logo

Civilian-Military Interaction in Conflicts: Best Practices and Perceptions

This research effort which is led by CHRHS in collaboration with the U.S. Naval War College, is fully funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Through research conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Jordan, this study aims to significantly expand and deepen the understanding of civilian-military coordination across different types of humanitarian crises and aid in the development of updated evidence-based guidance for humanitarian and military actors working in close proximity in a diverse range of contexts worldwide. More >

Military Personnel

Surmounting Contemporary Challenges to Humanitarian-Military Relations

Humanitarian-military relations has emerged as an important and ever-expanding field of policy analysis and practice. However, this strand of literature, and the associated policy discourse, suffers from overarching deficiencies. This research examines the state of this discourse and recommends steps toward correcting these deficiencies. The resulting report is based on an assessment of available primary and secondary literature, as well as 38 semi-structured interviews. More >

Arial Bombardment Picture in Yemen

The Responsibility of States Indirectly Involved in an Armed Conflict to Provide Medical Care: A Contemporary Challenge for the Classification of Armed Conflicts

In determining the legal responsibility of a state indirectly involved in an armed conflict to provide medical care for affected civilians and combatants, several fundamental questions arise. Through legal, desk-review research, this project tackles the central question: When is a state, or non-state armed group, a party to a conflict? In doing so, the research examines the parameters for when a state’s or non-state armed group’s involvement in a conflict constitutes it being a party to the conflict. The research then goes onto examine the parameters for what constitutes the provision of medical care for affected civilians or combatants. More >

Person holding thermometer for disease identification

Community Perceptions of Military Involvement in Epidemic Response in the Northeast Region of Nigeria

For over a decade, the northeastern region of Nigeria has been plagued by violence perpetrated by the armed group Boko Haram. Coupled with the highest rate of poverty in Nigeria, the situation in the northeastern region has become one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. In response, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Disaster Response Plan (NDRP) were created to devise a coordinated strategy to deal with emerging outbreaks of infectious diseases. This research aims to assess civilian perception and interaction with Nigerian military’s involvement in epidemic response, using insights from both the military and civilian populations. More >

Predictive Tool for Management of Pediatric Diarrhea

Bayesian Diagnostic for Etiological Management of Pediatric Diarrhea

The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies has received funding from the Gates Foundation to develop a predictive tool to guide the treatment of pediatric diarrhea. CHRHS is working with the University of Utah (project lead) on developing and testing a smartphone decision app that can provide healthcare workers with probability estimates of the etiology of individual cases of diarrhea in children. More >

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- People's Army Symbol

Contemplative Peace Building for Ex-Combatants in Colombia

The goal for this project is to develop and implement a framework using contemplative practices for healing and peacebuilding with ex-combatants in the demilitarization process in Colombia. Over two years, the project team will work in Medellin, Colombia with a local non-profit to develop and refine this framework through a combination of qualitative, behavioral, and physiological research methodologies. The framework will be integrated into the local partner's core programming and we will produce a manual for use in Colombia and in other global peacebuilding contexts.