ICRC supports student competitions in international humanitarian law

30-04-2014 Feature

Each year, the ICRC partners with universities and National Societies to organize student competitions in international humanitarian law (IHL). These competitions may take many forms, such as simulations, role-plays and moot legal courts. This year’s theme is the challenges posed to IHL by new technologies.

Frits Kalshoven Competition 2014, final round /
© Netherlands Red Cross


During the first half of 2014, the ICRC supported four student competitions: the Frits Kalshoven Competition (The Hague, Netherlands), the Red Cross IHL Moot (Hong Kong), the Jean-Pictet International Competition in IHL (Sintra, Portugal) and the 1st edition of the Clara Barton Competition (Washington D.C., United States of America). The events in total allowed students from more than 80 universities worldwide to apply IHL to practical, contemporary humanitarian issues proposed in fictitious case studies.

Reaching out to current academic experts and future decision-makers

Some of the ICRC’s prevention activities support university professors to develop IHL teaching. Indeed, as academic experts consulted by governments, those professors often play a crucial role in implementing IHL at a national level.
Student competitions allow students to connect with various experts, including professors, and show participants concrete ways to teach IHL.

“As soon as I was back from a field assignment as ICRC delegate, I acted as a juror at the Jean-Pictet Competition,” says Etienne Kuster, ICRC adviser for Relations with Academic Circles. “It really struck me how role-plays were modelled after real-life situations I was facing in the field,” he adds.
In all the competitions, participants engaged in a variety of role-playing exercises, during which they assumed various professional roles and performed different practical assignments, such as negotiating humanitarian access or defending legal points of view. This year, “new technologies and warfare” were at the forefront of the fictitious case studies.

Cyber attacks, drone missiles and autonomous robot flies

In The Hague, for the final round of the Frits Kalshoven competition, two fictitious parties – a government and a private company – presented their opposing views on the environmental consequences of a cyber attack as well as the implications of missile and drone attacks.
At the Red Cross IHL Moot in Hong Kong, 24 participating teams from Asia-Pacific countries were assigned the role of either the prosecutor or the defendant in a fictitious trial addressing attacks carried out using drones and autonomous weapons.

The Jean-Pictet Competition in Portugal challenged participants to understand the application of IHL, as they took part in role-plays and simulations on the legality of autonomous robot flies being able to inflict lethal bites on their targets.

“In the past decade, the teaching of IHL has grown a lot in U.S. law schools. However, no moot court or competition has been dedicated to that body of law up to now. The purpose of the Clara Barton Competition in Washington was to offer students an opportunity to face real-world challenges, of the type that the military, government attorneys and practitioners face during armed conflict,” explains Anne Quintin, ICRC Law and Policy outreach adviser at the ICRC and co-founder of the Clara Barton Competition. “Thanks to the hard work of the American Red Cross, this first edition was a huge success.” Connecting with the “new technologies and warfare” theme, the event allowed students to address violations of IHL in realistic video games and to negotiate a fictitious treaty on cyber warfare.

Addressing “new technologies and warfare”

The ICRC itself has explored the “new technologies and warfare” theme: a special edition of the International Review of the Red Cross focused on the topic, and conferences involving experts, webinars and panels are taking place throughout 2014.
But to return to the students – “Student competitions are unique and fantastic life experiences, and they are worth undertaking by any student interested in working in humanitarian law and action,” declares Laurence Brunet-Baldwin, a former participant in the Jean-Pictet Competition. The ICRC annually supports seven regional and 15 national student competitions, thus contributing to the development of networks of current and future humanitarian professionals.


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