The biannual advanced training course in international humanitarian law for university professors took place at the Humanitarium, the ICRC’s new conference and visitors' centre in Geneva, from 4-7 November 2013. Experts from more than 20 countries gathered to discuss cutting-edge IHL topics and share teaching tools and methodologies.
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Originally established as a joint initiative of the ICRC and the Graduate Institute for International Studies in 1993, the 2013 event was the tenth of its kind. The course programme, put together in collaboration with several university professors and ICRC legal experts, focused on contemporary and challenging issues in the field of international humanitarian law (IHL), human rights and international criminal law.
Most of the sessions were co-chaired by renowned academic experts and practitioners, along with ICRC specialists. This enabled participants to grasp different points of view and gain an insight into the various legal approaches adopted towards specific legal challenges. A fair amount of time was dedicated to live discussions, as participants were required to actively express their points of view on a wide range of current humanitarian law issues.
Topics included the scope of contemporary armed conflicts, cyber-warfare, the use of drones, examples of law enforcement versus conduct of hostilities, and compliance of non-state armed groups with IHL. An entire day was also dedicated to teaching methodologies and the role of academics in reinforcing respect for IHL.
Getting involved in ICRC projects
Several new educational tools were introduced to participants, ranging from publications to e-learning courses and computer-based simulations. Some sessions took the form of workshops in which participants analysed particular case studies, for example the legal framework applying to health-care personnel in situations of armed conflict and other emergencies. By testing the ready-made workshop based on the ICRC reference publication How Does Law Protect in War, professors at the same time contributed to ICRC efforts aimed at clarifying certain legal notions in IHL.
The course also gave professors the opportunity to get to know and become involved with core ICRC projects, such as updating the Commentaries to the Geneva Conventions, collaborating on the ICRC Customary Law Database, contributing to the IHL National Implementation Database and submitting articles to the International Review of the Red Cross.
"We designed the course as a means of mobilizing university professors to support the work of the ICRC," said Etienne Kuster, ICRC adviser on relations with academic circles. "After several decades of supporting IHL teaching in academic institutions worldwide, we think it is time for the ICRC to make the best use of this wealth of worldwide academic expertise for its various projects," he added.
Visits to the ICRC library and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum also allowed participants to get a better idea of the role of the ICRC both as a 'guardian of IHL' and a humanitarian actor in the field.
A substantive and productive week
The week ended with the 10th Paul Reuter Prize award ceremony. During the ceremony a panel of experts spoke and answered questions on contemporary challenges to the law of non-international armed conflicts. One of the panellists, Associate Professor Sandesh Sivakumaran, the Prize Laureate and a principal guest of the course, presented his acclaimed book, The Law of Non-International Armed Conflict.
One of the course participants, Mike Sanderson, director of the Master of Law postgraduate law degree in International Human Rights Law at Exeter University's School of Law in the UK, said:
I can honestly say that I've rarely been to a course that was so obviously well thought out, substantive and productive.
Indeed, the evaluation survey showed that the assembled professors were more than satisfied with the overall organization and running of the training course. For Etienne Kuster, the successful experience does not stop here. He observed:
The professors are expected to make good use of the course's online platform and the related LinkedIN discussion group to continue sharing opinions, academic work and teaching tools that can help improve knowledge, respect and implementation of IHL worldwide.
The Advanced Training Course in IHL for university professors takes place every two years. For the 2015 renewal, the ICRC expects to build on the LinkedIN network of IHL professors and design an interactive programme that focuses on collaborations on various ICRC projects. As well as responding to academic expectations, the training course will at the same time be able to keep abreast of current humanitarian challenges.
A podcast of the conference can be heard and/or downloaded here: