Liberia's new army smartens up on the laws of war
As Liberia recovers from years of bloody conflict, a new army is taking shape. The ICRC is involved in the training process, to help ensure that humanitarian rules form part of the instruction. The ICRC's Stephanie Bouaziz spoke to a Liberian instructor.
ICRC support for military training
The ICRC supports the military in meeting their responsibilities to instruct troops in IHL. It does so through organizing seminars and courses, and providing resource materials. Permanently present in Liberia since 1990, the ICRC has provided support for the training of the new army from day one. In November 2007, it organized a week-long "Training of trainers" course for the instructors of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), aiming to help integrate LoAC into the military's training and practice.
"I have been a soldier for more than 20 years now," explains Eric Dennis, a lieutenant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). "Most of us never had a chance to learn about the rules of war in earlier times. If people committed such atrocities during the war, I believe it is because they were not educated."
Eric was one of 20 participants in a course for army trainers on international humanitarian law (IHL), or the Law of Armed Conflict (LoAC), organized by the ICRC in November 2007. Now he is one of the instructors charged with passing the instruction down the chain of command. He shared some of his thoughts about the need for soldiers to respect the law.
"Respect comes from education, and it is my responsibility as a leader to train my soldiers in respecting the law, so we will never tarnish the image of our army and of our country. We want an army of professional soldiers; an army of educated men and women who will respect the law and will only fight against combatants."
Eric, who studied international relations and political science at graduate level, has been involved with military training for most of his working life. The ICRC training course helped him take his know-how a step further.
"All of us learned a lot during the sessions on IHL. Our country has signed the Geneva Conventions and the law binds us all. Knowing the rules is one thing; we now want to design the training in LoAC in the most appropriate way, so that all the soldiers get the knowledge and the practical skills to respect the law at every stage of their military life.
"After the 'training of trainers', we split our soldiers into companies. Each of the ICRC-trained officers is responsible for the teaching of LoAC to his soldiers. We want to have several sessions a year, and make sure that the Geneva and Hague Conventions are fully integrated into operational practice.
"Liberia is building a new army and we are very strict regarding its standards. We would like the ICRC to keep on supporting us, so we can improve the knowledge we will transmit to the soldiers, so we all know exactly what is allowed and what is not."