Opening ceremony

Belgium: past and future of the Bruges colloquium on IHL.

Since 1999, the Bruges Colloquium on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the annual rendez-vous of IHL experts and practitioners in Belgium. Jointly organized by the ICRC and the College of Europe, it takes place in the premises of the College of Europe Bruges.
Article 19 October 2023 Belgium

Since 1999, the month of October has seen IHL experts and practitioners gather in Bruges to take part in a two-days discussion on the most pressing IHL themes. Unfortunately, due to the financial constraints that the ICRC recently faced and the need to prioritize our humanitarian operations, the Colloquium will not take place in 2023.

Supporting the development of IHL and engaging with academia remain however central to the ICRC mandate, and to keep the spirit of the Bruges Colloquium alive, the proceedings of last year's edition are now available online. They encapsulate two days of thought-provoking debates, expert insights, and innovative ideas, and serve as a resource for anyone interested in the field of IHL.

The 2022 edition of the Bruges Colloquium on IHL

Read the proceedings

The 23rd Bruges Colloquium on IHL opened with remarks from Federica Mogherini, Rector of the College of Europe, Gilles Carbonnier, Vice-President of the ICRC, and Stephanie Siklossy, Deputy Head of ICRC delegation in Belgium.

The opening session discussed global trends in armed conflicts, emphasizing the importance of classifying conflicts, in particular in the context of the current increase in both non-international armed conflicts (NIAC) and international armed conflicts (IAC). Challenges were outlined, such as identifying groups, aggregating the intensity of confrontations, and addressing splinter groups. NATO's perspective on global trends and legal challenges, particularly in the Russia-Ukraine IAC, was also discussed.

The first panel addressed the question of when a State becomes a party to an international armed conflict, covering various scenarios and criteria, including cyber means. The second panel focused on the relevance of neutrality in modern international relations, including the breach of neutrality law. The third panel delved into when non-state actors become parties in armed conflicts, exploring aspects like coalitions and military support.

The second day of the Colloquium shifted focus to the status of persons and entities in armed conflict. The fourth panel discussed the changing definition of combatants, emphasizing the importance of maintaining protection under IHL. The fifth and last panel addressed the status of private military and security companies (PMSCs), the role of media and social media in contemporary conflicts, and the legal consequences of Digital Service Providers in armed conflicts.

Back for more in 2024!

While it was not possible to come together in 2023, the Bruges Colloquium on IHL will return in 2024 with a new formula that promises to uphold the tradition of thought-provoking discussions and knowledge-sharing.

Keep an eye on the website for more updates next year on how we will continue to advance our understanding of IHL and its crucial role in upholding humanity in war.