Over 90 high ranking officers from 71 countries will be in Lucerne from 26 September to 1st October for a workshop on international rules governing military operations. This senior workshop, developed by the ICRC as part of its program on relations with arms carriers, supports the efforts of armed forces to respect their legal obligations regarding compliance with and promotion of the law of armed conflict.
For its tenth anniversary, SWIRMO has gathered an exceptional group of high-ranking officers - from lieutenant-colonel to brigadier general – who also represent the highest number of participants ever. According to Jamie Williamson, head of the Unit for relations with arms carriers at the ICRC, "the fact that so many busy senior officers from around the globe devote one whole week to this workshop is proof of the excellent reputation SWIRMO has built over the years."
The course contents, freshly revised, focus on current issues: attacks on health structures and health personnel, explosive weapons in populated areas, urban warfare and protracted conflicts. "These are the realities of today's conflicts, and of our humanitarian work. More than two thirds of the ICRC's budget is currently spent in countries that have known conflict for many years," points out Mr Williamson.
Teaching in four languages (English, French, Russian and Spanish), serving senior military experts will highlight the need to integrate relevant legal considerations into operational practice. During work in small groups on scenarios that resemble real life, participants will adopt a hands-on approach having to determine for example, how armed forces need to adapt their operations in taking control of a fictional island so as to minimize harm to civilians who live in the local village.
The workshop is also unique, says Mr Williamson, "because it provides a neutral space for senior military personnel, who would not traditionally cooperate on military matters, to work together and understand each other's approaches to ensuring respect of IHL." The bonds participants create while discussing how International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applies in today's conflicts may also last beyond the gathering.
Each year, SWIRMO is organized jointly by the ICRC and the armed forces of a specific country. The first workshop took place in Switzerland in 2007, and the country went on to play host in 2008 and 2010. The other hosts have been France (2009), South Africa (2011), Malaysia (2012), Colombia (2013), China (2014) and, finally, Algeria (2015).
This year, the course will be opened by Ms Christine Beerli, ICRC vice-president, and by Lieutenant General Andre Blattmann of the Swiss Armed Forces.