Civilian Victimization and Conflict Escalation

Civilian Victimization and Conflict Escalation

Funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, 2015-2016


Prof. Lars-Erik Cederman, ETH Zurich (project leader)
Prof. Simon Hug, Université de Genève


Intra-state conflicts between state forces and opposition movements often cause considerable harm to civilian populations, much of which results from direct attacks against non-combatants. Tragic examples that make headlines these days are campaigns of armed violence against civilians in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. Apart from the horrendous suffering such campaigns inflict directly on the targeted populations, civilian victimization also has the potential to trigger, intensify, and prolong civil wars, causing even more damage in terms of human lives lost.

This project seeks to advance our understanding of the consequences of violence against civilians by armed actors for subsequent patterns of conflict escalation. Specifically, the research studies the conditions and mechanisms through which campaigns of armed violence against civilians contribute to the escalation from nonviolent to violent forms of contestation, the risk of civil war onset, and – once armed conflict is underway – the escalation and duration of civil wars. To that end, the research team will collect novel data on the ethnic identity of civilian victims in violent campaigns around the globe link these data to violent and nonviolent forms of contestation, to patterns of wartime recruitment, and to information on armed group fragmentation. Moreover, in-depth case studies will be conducted to investigate the theorized causal mechanisms.

The research will be carried out in close collaboration with Geneva Call and UNITAR, two organizations engaged in the areas of peace-building and civilian protection in armed conflict.

More information on the SNIS website