Archived page: may contain outdated information!

Dissemination activities in the former Yugoslavia

02-09-1996 Operational Update

Throughout the war in the former Yugoslavia, the most basic of humanitarian rules were consistently ignored and deliberately flouted. From the outset, ICRC delegates worked relentlessly to prevent violations and -- through bilateral contacts, the local media, seminars and the distribution of publications -- urged combatants on all sides to respect international humanitarian law (IHL) in their conduct of hostilities. Promoting the Red Cross, its aims and working principles, was and still is an integral part of the ICRC's operation in this region.

Now that the guns are silent, the climate is more favourable and people are more receptive to a humanitarian message, although regretfully this was not the case when the conflict was in full swing. Soldiers and civilians alike feel concerned about what happened to them during the war and would not like to see it repeated. Thus, in addition to its usual assistance and protection activities, the ICRC's programme to disseminate IHL to soldiers and to spread traditional human values among members of the different communities appears as a very concrete step towards lasting peace. 

 The law of war and the armed forces  

It's an encouraging sign: the armed forces in the former Yugoslavia are increasingly open to the idea of integrating IHL into their training programmes. The moment is propitious, as all of them are in the process of restructuring. The ICRC has seized the moment to approach the respective Ministries of Defence, and agreements have already been signed for coopera tion in this field in the medium and long term.

 What is international humanitarian law?  

 International humanitarian law (IHL), or the law of war as it is also known, is a set of rules established by treaties or custom which are specifically intended to solve humanitarian problems directly arising from international or non-international armed conflicts. They limit, for humanitarian reasons, the right of the parties to a conflict to choose the methods and means of warfare and they protect persons and property that are, or may be, affected by conflict. IHL is composed of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, which aim to safeguard military personnel who are placed hors de combat and persons not taking part in hostilities, and of the Law of The Hague, which determines the rights and duties of belligerents in the conduct of operations and limits the choice of methods of warfare.  Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions also largely pertains to the conduct of hostilities.  

In the Republic of Croatia, the ICRC and the Croatian army signed an agreement in November 1995; since then, a total of 75 senior officers have already taken part in a three-day basic course and received materials to help them pass on what they learned to their subordinates, junior officers and soldiers. As a complement to this basic course, ten officers were designated by the Ministry of Defence to become future IHL instructors. As part of a special ICRC workshop they were given the opportunity to conduct law of war courses, which included the war game BATEX (Battalion Exercise, see box below).

In April, in a three-day seminar on IHL and human rights held in Zagreb, 17 senior officers of the Military Police were introduced to the relevant bodies of law covering various situations of violence, ranging from in peacetime to in times of international armed conflict. Special emphasis was laid on the problem of arrest and detention. A dissemination programme for members of the joint Croatian-Serb police force to be deployed in Eastern Slavonia also got under way; to date, more than 450 Serbian police officers have attended one-hour presentations.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia , a similar programme of dissemination to the armed forces is expected to begin in the last quarter of 1996, after a framework agreement for cooperation in the dissemination of IHL, effective for a five-year period, was signed with the Federal Ministry of Defence on 10 July.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina , six seminars have so far been conducted for the respective armed forces (VRS, HVO and ARBIH) in Banja Luka, Mostar, Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica. A total of 150 senior officers were able to benefit. A first Trainers'Workshop held in Capljina (south of Mostar) provided the basis for a continuous IHL training course for the HVO: 25 battalion commanders and staff officers were instructed in the use of the ICRC teaching file, translated into their language. Similar events are scheduled to cover the forces of the Republika Srpska and of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The ICRC has expressed its willingness to contribute to the education of senior officers with responsibility for national training by granting them scholarships to take part in the international military course on the law of armed conflict at the San Remo Institute for Humanitarian Law in Italy and the international military course for national instructors on the law of ar med conflict in Geneva. In so doing, the ICRC hopes to ensure that coherent IHL training programmes are developed and implemented.

 Is it worth it?  

 According to officers attending the course, who had experienced the war, the scope of the subject matter dealt with in the seminar was "enough to have a positive influence on the participants in an armed conflict." Their comments at the end of the course:  

 "In my opinion there would have been much less evil perpetrated in areas of the former Yugoslavia if such seminars had been organized for all the warring parties at the very beginning of the conflict. However, it's never too late to inform soldiers and their superiors about IHL norms for the sake of generations to come.""As for the law of war, I was acquainted with a lot of things before, but this seminar taught me how to transfer this knowledge to my subordinates.""Try to organize as many such seminars as possible for the other side. Thank you."  


In central Europe a delegate for dissemination to the armed forces (DAF) based in both Zagreb and Budapest has the task of disseminating IHL in an area stretching from Poland to Greece; for three months he was assisted in Bosnia and Herzegovina by an IHL instructor from the ICRC pool, freed of his routine obligations by the Australian Defence Forces. Due to the success of his three-month mission, the ICRC now intends to train and deploy a permanent DAF delegate in the region for a two-year stretch.

 BATEX : Soldiers learn the relevance of IHL  

 The ICRC's message to senior officers is simple: military missions can be accomplished, often more efficiently, while respecting the law of war. Their individual responsibility is the execution of their mission in such a manner that a normal situation can be rapidly restored after the fighting. BATEX (Battalion Exercise), the war game developed by the ICRC, is an interactive training tool in form of a map exercise. Tactical operations of attack and defence have to be planned and conducted by the students, who must try to cause the least suffering and damage while achieving their military objective. They are challenged to integrate humanitarian considerations, such as how to deal with civilians, the wounded, prisoners, cultural objects, etc., into the planning and execution process. The four stages of the game are preceded by introductions to IHL, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the ICRC, control of armed conflict, the law of neutrality, command responsibility, behaviour in action and the law of occupation. Further exercises (from brigade to platoon level) are currently being developed by the ICRC.  

 The ICRC Division for Dissemination to the Armed Forces consists of a team of eight specialized field delegates world-wide, assisted by five delegates at headquarters and 25 IHL instructors who are available for short-term missions of up to six months; all of them are experienced military commanders. A small pool of police specialists will reinforce the unit in the near future .

 Think mines !

Nobody really knows how many landmines and unexploded ordnance are scattered throughout the former Yugoslavia. Official estimates tend towards 7 million f or the region. The mines are mainly concentrated in areas along the former confrontation lines, but as these often ran through cities and moved back and forth, the mines could be anywhere, hidden by grass and dirt. Children, who are naturally curious, farmers tending their land, and displaced people returning to their former homes in deserted villages are specifically at risk. The process of removing landmines is very slow and very costly: in 30 years there will still be people injured by mine explosions in the region.

" All through the war we had people brought to us in pieces whom we tried to patch together. With the end of the war we thought that would be over. But now all these civilians come in with mine injuries, many of them children. It is unbearable! " bewails the head of the traumatology department in Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo. To reduce the number of victims, the ICRC has launched a mine-awareness campaign designed to make everybody " think mines " wherever they go.

 ICRC mine awareness campaign  

 The objective of this campaign is to alter people's attitudes and behaviour with regard to landmines and unexploded devices as long as they remain in the ground. It was initiated in spring 1996 and is based on two pillars:  

 - A nation-wide media campaign with the aim of apprising as wide a public as possible of the dangers of landmines and instilling in them a sense of personal responsibility for their own protection. TV and radio spots, posters and leaflets were devised in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb so as to be appropriate for all target groups, whichever of the local languages they speak.  

 A programme run with the Red Crosses of the region to train a group of local trainers, who will then spread their knowledge within their community and alter there attitudes and behaviour with regard to landmines.  

 The strong involvement of the local community, Red Cross societies and local structures and their extended networks at this stage is essential, as they will need to take over once the ICRC leaves. Relying on local structures such as these also facilitates the gathering of important information, such as:  

 - What is risk-taking behaviour?  

 - Who is taking the risk?  

 - What is the rate of accidents reported in specific areas?  

 Appropriate messages can then be formulated for the different publics at risk.  

In the Republic of Croatia , since March 115,000 brochures and 10,000 posters on mines have been distributed to Red Cross branches in the areas deemed to be most contaminated by landmines and unexploded devices. Radio and TV spots were delivered to ten local radio and three TV stations, with a request that they be played twice daily. Since then, three new TV spots, two radio spots, three print advertisements and new posters were produced and will be distributed. Children's exercise books with mine information are currently being printed, for distribution at the beginning of the next school year.

The training programme has also taken a step forward: one Croatian Red Cross Programme Coordinator and eight ICRC locally employed field officers have been educ ated as " master trainers " , who will now teach local Red Cross volunteers. The volunteers have been selected and their training phase should start by end-August in Vukovar, then in Osijek, Knin and Vojnic: the target is to have 100 trained volunteers by the end of September. Specific didactic material in Croatian and Serbian has been prepared for them, including a 20-page flipchart combining photos and drawings, a teaching guide, wooden models of mines, examples of mine markings and leaflets for general distribution.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina , since mid-April two spots have been broadcast twice a day by five TV stations; ten spots have been broadcast four to five times a day by 20 radio stations; 150,000 leaflets written in Serbian Cyrillic and in Bosnian were distributed; 37,000 posters were printed. The training programme was initiated, with six ICRC local field officers from Bjeljina, Gorazde, Pale, Trebinje, Tuzla and Zenica educated as " master trainers " , who will now impart their knowledge to local Red Cross volunteers. Most of the volunteers in both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska have been selected and a first training workshop has taken place in Trebinje; the target is to have 60 of them trained by mid-September. Some 500 T-shirts with the slogan " Think mines " were printed for children taking part in summer camps.

 Reviving humanitarian values  

Five years of war in the area will undoubtedly leave a deep scar on the collective consciousness of the people for many years to come and threatens to undermine the basic humanitarian values necessary for social stability. The impressionable minds of young people are especially affected. They have grown up in the midst of war and the intense hatred it has engendered, when all community-based activities f or young people have virtually disappeared. The absence of meaningful activities may lead them to explore damaging alternatives, such as mindless violence, alcoholism or drug abuse. Conducting educational programmes for community schools may help revive traditional humanitarian values among the young people.

In the Republic of Croatia , the youth department of the Red Cross (with an existing network of 107 branches) came to an agreement with the Ministry of Education that one hour a week would be made available to the Red Cross in the primary and secondary schools. This provided the opportunity for the Red Cross to develop a programme in cooperation with the ICRC called " Promoting Red Cross Ideas and Activities in Croatian Schools " . The idea is to motivate young people in a positive, constructive manner, encouraging them to respect and care for others and create Red Cross youth structures in their schools. By the end of 1996, some 150 volunteer teachers in 150 schools throughout the former war zones will be trained as initiators of Red Cross activities in their schools, translating humanitarian ideas into action.

In the course of a three-day workshop teachers are acquainted with the history of the Red Cross and the fundamental principles, are taught interactive educational methods and receive didactic material. Two workshops for 50 teachers representing 40 schools in the municipalities of Slavonski Brod, Zupanja and Vinkovci (Eastern Slavonia) have already taken place; more are planned in Vukovar, Osijek, Knin, Vojnic and Okucani, thus covering the whole territory. Six ICRC field officers in five sub-delegations received ten days'training in July so as to be able to further develop this programme all over Croatia. Their task is to train teachers and to support and supervise youth initiatives.

 The most humanitarian person in the world  

 Teachers are taught to encourage participants in their courses to interact using exercises such as this:  

 Participants are split up into four groups and are given a large sheet of paper with a picture of a smiling face, entitled "the most humanitarian person in the world". Underneath are three headings: a) behaviour in everyday life; b) behaviour in times of social tension; c) behaviour in times of war. The groups then list what they think are the relevant attributes under each heading, after which they present their thoughts for discussion with the other participants.  

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a team of seven local dissemination officers were trained to carry out a continuous dissemination programme throughout the territory. They have developed a master dissemination presentation file, which can be adapted to the various target audiences, and have been equipped with appropriate audio-visual materials. To date, six seminars have been held in Banja Luka, Gorazde and Trebinje for some 120 members of the International Police Task Force (IPTF). Further sessions are planned for such publics as the local Red Cross branches, the IPTF and IFOR. In the Republika Srpska, the local Red Cross, with the ICRC's financial support, is organizing summer camps for young people at its centre in Modrica. For the first time in five years, children aged 8-13 are able to enjoy a holiday, with activities centred on the Red Cross: four shifts of 50 children each are given some first-aid knowledge and shown activities to enhance solidarity to perform once they are back at school. With regard to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, summer camps were organized by the Maglaj, Bihac and Cazin local Red Cross branches for a total of 220 children injured or orphaned by the war. In each of these camps the ICRC takes charge of two days, with games and activities around the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and its seven principles, as well as around landmine awareness.

 Dissemination team  

 Six dissemination delegates, two mine-awareness advisers and two DAF delegates take care of the ICRCs dissemination activities in the former Yugoslavia. They do so with the support of 27 locally hired staff.