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Niger: humanitarian principles and a battle of wits

13-02-2009 Feature

In Niger in December 2008, a group of journalism, sociology and medical students took part in a national moot court competition on international humanitarian law. Surprisingly, it was the medical students who came out on top.


  The ENAM team make their speech    

Abdou Moumouni University, where the competition took place, was set up in 1971 and comprises five faculties, three research institutes and an École nationale supérieure.  

International humanitarian law is an important part of public international law. It aims to reduce the suffering of civilian victims of armed conflict or other situations of violence by protecting those not, or no longer, taking a direct part in hostilities, and by limiting the means and methods of warfare.

Moot court competitions are organized or supported by the ICRC all over the world. They are mainly designed for students of law, political science, international relations and journalism, and for aspiring officers or those in training. The competitions are part of a process of promoting this branch of international law, and aim to spark the interest of students and teachers.

Working with universities is therefore a priority. This is firstly because the ICRC, in line with its mandate as the guardian and promoter of humanitarian law, supports the dissemination and instruction of this body of law. It is also because the academic world is a competitive environment conducive to intellectual sparring. Debates that take place in these circles help us to advance our thinking and take note of the challenges in this area. Scientific research and methodological rigour in analysis enable us to anticipate or solve the problems international humanitarian law faces.

It is therefore important to challenge our future decision-makers and actors on the problems of armed conflict and its consequences, and also on the limits that must be imposed. As one participant pointed out: " The problem is that international humanitarian law is more limited than human rights, because it is far less idealistic. It deals with difficult issues, things we would prefer not to talk about, because we would like to rise above them. But conflicts are unfortunately a fact of life and we must address the issue of protecting those not participating in them and make sure everyone understands that fighters are only adversaries in the context of war. "

This is the fifth time that a competition has been held in Niger. It opened in the presence of government and academic officials, several lecturers and students, the president of the Niger Red Cross and the head of the ICRC mission in Niamey.


  The winning team    

The dean of the faculty of legal and economic sciences underlined the importance for the university, and for the lecturers and students, of knowing about international humanitarian law. It was an opportunity for them to gain a broader world view and to develop their professional training. Thanks to ICRC support, lecturer-researchers from this faculty and from the École nationale d'administration et de magistrature (ENAM) have been able to take part in a Pan African course on international humanitarian law, organized every two years.

A sociology student who took part in the competition complained that the ICRC is only interested in law students. She also said that before the competition, she thought that the Red Cross only dealt with health issues. It is her view that, where armed conflict is concerned, sociological analysis is a must.

During the debates, participants examined international humanitarian law concepts through the eyes of the specialists they will become, each in their own sphere. Djibo Issoufou, a medical student, believes that instead of discussing the law applicable to a particular conflict, we should talk about diagnosis and solution. When asked, " Why do you think you won? " , he replied that for the case they were given, they had made the best diagnosis and had come up with real solutions.

A member of the ENAM team that reached the final said, " This competition has taught us a lot. For five days, we have shared our experiences and opinions on international humanitarian law and the ICRC's work. The medical team's victory surprised us, but in the end we are all winners. "

Nicolai Panke, head of the ICRC’s mission in the Sahel, spoke along similar lines in his closing remarks. He declared that everyone had won, but that the biggest winner of all was international humanitarian law.

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