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Mexico: teaching humanitarian law in military exercises

13-12-2005 Feature

To ensure that its troops engaged in combat abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, the Mexican army has designed a practical training course that exposes soldiers to situations in which those rules apply.

During the course, part of which involves military exercises, soldiers are placed in circumstances that simulate, in a realistic manner, those they might encounter in active combat, such as finding themselves in the presence of civilians, civilian property or installations under the protection of the emblems recognized by humanitiarian law.

The course is divided into three parts: theory, presentations and practice.

In the theoretical part, soldiers first attend a class on the basic principles of humanitarian law. Then they view a videotape produced by the British armed forces depicting the seizure of a village and, together with the instructor, they analyse what they have seen in connection with the treatment of the wounded, prisoners of war and civilians, the obligation to spare cultural and other protected property and the issue of ruses and stratagems.

In the second part, the soldiers visit a mock village with 10 " teaching posts. " At each post, they are given a presentation on issues already raised in theory. Then they are shown, through examples, how to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, civilians and medical or religious personnel, which protective emblems are used and how prisoners of war must be treated.

In the practical part, they carry out a combat exercise. They form a battalion named " Azteca, " which is ordered to recapture a position taken by the " Blue forces, " a group of soldiers who play the part of the enemy and whose task is to place the Azteca battalion in tactical situations that must be dealt with in conformity with humanitarian law.

The Azteca ba ttalion has 10 hours to reach its objective and repel the Blue forces.

The exercise begins with the operational planning stage, during which the commander meets with the officers in charge of medical services, administration, transport and military supplies. This enables participants to practise engaging in a decision-making process in accordance with the procedures laid down in military manuals. It also provides an opportunity to test their battle readiness and to check that they are all carrying their identity badges and booklets on humanitarian law and human rights law. A military police unit is set up to handle prisoners of war.

Lastly, the battalion receives its general orders and is told to launch the military operation.

In carrying out the operation, the members of the Azteca battalion must deal with resistence from the Blue forces, using the knowledge they have acquired during the course.

 The ICRC's role  

The ICRC supports such exercises by providing experts who help produce the teaching materials. Its participation is part of the organization's preventive activities designed to promote compliance with the rules of humanitarian law by armed forces engaged in combat.

  More information and photos on our Spanish website