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China: students learn IHL through debate at Shanghai Debating Competition

24-05-2012 Feature

The final round of the second Shanghai Debating Competition on Humanitarian Issues took place at Fudan University on 21 April. The debate between the universities of Tongji and Fudan took place in front of a capacity crowd of over 400 students. Victory finally went to Tongji, with Fudan coming second and Shanghai University and the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade tying for third place.

Introduction

 

© Shanghai Red Cross

In 2005, the Shanghai Red Cross had implemented the ICRC's Exploring Humanitarian Law programme at a number of secondary schools with support from the ICRC. Well over 22,000 Shanghai middle school students learned about IHL and other humanitarian issues through the project. This got the Shanghai Red Cross Youth Department thinking about starting an IHL programme for college students, and the first Shanghai Debating Competition on Humanitarian Issues took place in 2011. This year, the second competition saw the number of teams increase from 8 to 24. Any college student interested in IHL could participate, and ICRC legal staff provided guidance on IHL and acted as judges.

Shanghai Red Cross vice-chairman Li Minglei

Shanghai Red Cross vice-chairman Li Minglei. 

Shanghai Red Cross vice-chairman Li Minglei.
© Shanghai Red Cross

"This competition is different from an IHL moot court, in that as long as students are interested in international humanitarian issues they can participate in the competition, no matter what subject they are studying. The threshold is lower, enabling more students to participate. For the first time, we invited the team from Tsinghua University in Beijing, because although this event is held in Shanghai, we would like college students from the whole of China and from the Asia-Pacific region to get involved.

We hope that the debating competition will promote IHL widely among college students, stimulate their interest and teach them about the subject. Finally, the Red Cross needs to draw in young people to carry on its work, and we hope that activities like this will help train up a new generation of dedicated Red Cross staff."

Li Jiangying, head of the Shanghai Red Cross Youth Department

Li Jiangying (left), head of the Shanghai Red Cross Youth Department. 

Li Jiangying (left), head of the Shanghai Red Cross Youth Department.
© ICRC / Y. Sun

"We launched the EHL programme in 2005, mainly targetting secondary school pupils. This gave us the idea of designing an IHL programme for college students. The ICRC does run a moot court competition, but it's limited by quotas, which means that very few colleges from Shanghai can participate. This year, 23 universities applied to participate out of the 56 universities in Shanghai. More than 240 students took part in the training session before the debate. I'm impressed by the students' enthusiasm for IHL and I noticed that all of them were very dedicated to the debate, no matter which university they came from.

IHL training has has not yet reached the level we want to achieve, but we have invited IHL specialists to come and teach the students and to organize a study group for students interested in the subject.

Meanwhile, we hope the ICRC will continue its IHL support and provide us with promotional materials such as videos, analysis of classic cases and so forth. I believe the students will perform well and benefit from this kind of event as long as it can stimulate their interest and fit in with their schedules and abilities."

Thierry Meyrat, head of the ICRC's regional delegation for East Asia

Thierry Meyrat, head of the ICRC's regional delegation for East Asia. 

Thierry Meyrat, head of the ICRC's regional delegation for East Asia.
© Shanghai Red Cross

"It is a great pleasure to address this audience at the end of an intense and most interesting Debating Competition on Humanitarian Issues. For the ICRC, it is very encouraging to see that humanitarian issues are discussed and debated, as this will lead, without any doubt, to a better understanding of and support for humanitarian action.

The topic of today's debate was related to the principles that define humanitarian action. Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence have become common names in the humanitarian community. While humanity and impartiality are principles that most, if not all, humanitarian agencies adhere to, independence and neutrality are more complex.

We maintain that these principles are still relevant and that it is imperative – more than ever – to preserve space for neutral and independent humanitarian action. These principles are not primarily moral values, but rather a means of securing access to those who suffer the brunt of conflict and violence, and of making aid more effective."

Yang Hao, student of international economics and trade at Tongji University

Yang Hao, student of international economics and trade at Tongji University. 

Yang Hao, student of international economics and trade at Tongji University.
© ICRC / Y. Sun

"Last year we came second. We were a bit disappointed and were hoping to do better this year. Furthermore, the debate took place in Fudan University, which has special significance in the Chinese debating field. And when the result was announced, it made all our hard work worthwhile!

I am very interested in humanitarian issues and I believe that it is both meaningful and realistic to discuss how to minimize the harm done to civilians during armed conflict. We learned about the ICRC's mandate and principles while we were preparing for the debate. Originally, we had thought the Red Cross was more concerned with natural disasters, but now we have learned that the Red Cross also protects civilians in armed conflict. Debating with each other has prompted us to think more deeply about humanitarian issues and has given us a better understanding of international affairs."

Tang Meng, student of management science at Fudan University

Tang Meng, student of management science at Fudan University.  

Tang Meng, student of management science at Fudan University.
© ICRC / Y. Sun

"I had thought that the Red Cross was just a charitable organization. Participating in the debate has given me a better understanding of the ICRC, its history, its mandate, its humanitarian operations and its neutral position. The ICRC is a great organization, and it has made a unique contribution to humanitarian endeavour over the past century.

I hope I can learn something new by participating in the debating competition. At the same time as learning about IHL, I also want to cultivate a better and more comprehensive understanding of international issues. IHL lays down rules and provides protection in armed conflict. If war is unavoidable, applying IHL provides the best protection and assistance to civilians and non-combatants. Currently, I am interested in the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially the plight of civilians there."