Teaching international humanitarian law:an overview of an ICRC dissemination programme

31-03-2001 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 841, by Umesch Kadam

 Umesh Kadam, Regional Legal Adviser, ICRC Delegation for South Asia New Dehli  

The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols require States Parties to disseminate the content of these humanitarian treaties as widely as possible in their respective countries. Of course, their inclusion in military instruction is indispensable to ensure their implementation in time of armed conflict. But it is equally important to promote knowledge of humanitarian law among those whom it is intended to protect — the civilian population — as well as among those who have to apply it — public officials of various ministries. At the same time, political leaders and decision-makers must also be familiar with that law, so that they are aware of its relevance, realism and mode of operation if and when a conflict should break out. Therefore, to ensure respect for it — and also to promote its de-velopment — it is an essential task to include international humanitarian law in higher education. The ICRC has taken a number of steps to achieve just that in the South Asian region.

Higher education in most of the South Asian countries is based on the British system. After twelve years of schooling, a student has the option of joining any of the professional courses such as medicine, engineering or law. There is also the possibility of opting for basic graduate programmes in arts, science, commerce, etc. Moreover, a student can switch to professional courses after obtaining a basic gradu-ate degree. Once professional qualifications have been attained, such as a degree in law which qualifies the person for entry into the legal profession as a lawyer, an academic career can be pursued by taking up postgraduate studies and research. Most of the professional courses as well as graduate courses are run by colleges affiliated to universities. Universities are in charge of postgraduate courses. 

Educational planners in the various South Asian countries have by and large agreed to include international humanitarian law in law and political science studies. Following the recommendations of the Association of Indian Universities in May 1998, most of the Indian universities have included an international humanitarian law component in their undergraduate LL.B. programmes, which are conducted by the 550 law colleges affiliated to them. About 30 universities offer postgraduate courses in international law. Of these, some twenty universities offer a full optional course in international hu-manitarian law. Moreover, thirty-five universities in India offer a Master’s programme in defence and strategic studies, with an optional course on international humanitarian law. Most human rights postgraduate or diploma programmes include a course on international humanitarian law.

In Pakistan , international humanitarian law is taught primar-ily within law faculties and departments of international relations.

In some universities international humanitarian law is an optional course in international relations studies. The Universities Grants Commission of Pakistan has shown interest in the inclusion of international humanitarian law modules in undergraduate professional law courses. In a number of law faculties, international humanitarian law is part of a postgraduate law programme. A team of law students from Pakistan took part in last year’s Jean Pictet International Moot Court Competition, and another team is being trained for the 2001 Competition.

In Sri Lanka , the University of Colombo offers a full post-graduate course in international humanitarian law for international law graduates. In addition, the undergraduate international law course contains a brief module on international humanitarian law. The same is true of Tribhuvan University of Kathmandu, Nepal, and the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh . The other universities in Nepal and Bangladesh teach international humanitarian law at the undergraduate level.

The ICRC, through its Regional Delegation in New Delhi, is closely involved in promoting international humanitarian law in academic institutions in South Asia. Thus the delegation:

  • regularly organizes a South Asian Teaching Session on internationalhumanitarian law for postgraduate students and young university lecturers;

  • supports research and publications in this field;

  • publishes a journal on international humanitarian law; and organizes academic events on specific aspects of international humanitarian law, such as the International Criminal Court, the 1977 Additional Protocols, the issue of anti-personnel landmines, etc.

The delegation also accepts students for internships, has established a documentation centre on its premises, supports libraries of academic institutions by providing publications on international humanitarian law, holds moot court and essay-writing competitions and arranges other promotional events. It regularly organizes training programmes in international humanitarian law for academic staff teachi ng law, international relations, human rights, etc. who give courses on the subject at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Since 1999, together with the Indian Academy of International Law, it has launched a postgraduate diploma programme in international humanitarian law.

It must be stressed that as a rule these activities of the ICRC Delegation in New Delhi are conducted in collaboration with universities and other educational institutions in the countries concerned, and also with academic societies. Academic institutions have generally shown a keen interest in introducing international humanitarian law into higher education. As a result, there is considerable awareness of its importance among the academic communities in South Asia.