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Colombia: officers study application of IHL at SWIRMO 2013

16-09-2013 Interview

Senior military officers are to gather in Colombia from 6 to 12 October 2013 for the “Senior Workshop on International Rules governing Military Operations 2013” (SWIRMO 2013). Participants will share experiences and best practices for ensuring respect for the applicable law during military operations. Raoul Forster, who is the director of SWIRMO 2013, explains.

Why is SWIRMO held every year?

The ICRC is active in connection with virtually every current armed conflict and situation of violence. Despite the legal restrictions on the use of force, too many people entitled to protection under international humanitarian law and human rights law are attacked. Violations of IHL and human rights law occur too frequently. Hence the need to share experiences and best practices, every year, so that the armed forces can accomplish their missions in compliance with the law.

How does the workshop link in with the ICRC’s other work with weapon bearers?

The ICRC engages in dialogue with weapon bearers on specific operations and encourages them to educate, train and integrate the law into their operations. These are the two “keys” that allow us to access those who are suffering and who have no other protection against the effects of fighting.

It is the nature of the experiences shared that makes SWIRMO distinctive. We motivate the armed forces and raise their awareness of international law, with the intention that they transpose their legal obligations into measures that are practical, comprehensible and realistic for all combatants.

Why does the ICRC take an interest in the rules of military operations?

Abiding by the rules governing military operations is simply a question of fulfilling a State's treaty obligations. Those armed forces that make it a point of honour to do so scrupulously will earn greater legitimacy and respect in an international community that is increasingly concerned with mitigating the worst effects of war.

What is the benefit of gathering participants from so many diverse backgrounds?

This structure enables participants to share experiences and practices from all over the world. We ask governments to send senior officers who are closely involved in military operations, because it is these people who have to respect and apply the law on the ground. The diversity in the backgrounds of those officers contributes to the success of the workshop by ensuring a wide range of operational experience.  The ultimate goal is that they learn from one another how best to respect the law.

What can participants expect from SWIRMO 2013?

They can expect to benefit from lessons learned from the previous six workshops. We aim to move away from advanced legal theory towards practicality in conducting operations that comply with the law.

This year, SWIRMO combines a very brief theoretical part, including case studies, with, as last year, a scenario based brigade exercise supported by virtual imaging of the battle space. So, less theory and more practice!

Who are the panellists and speakers?

They are workshop leaders and senior officers with extensive experience in both teaching the law and, most importantly, integrating its most relevant aspects into operational practice. Complementing the panels and speeches will be three classes in English, one class in Spanish, one in French and one in Russian.

Is SWIRMO always organized in a different country?

For the first four years (2007-2010), SWIRMO was held in Europe. The 2007, 2008 and 2010 editions of SWIRMO took place in Switzerland, with the Swiss armed forces as co-hosts; SWIRMO 2009 was held in Paris, in cooperation with the État-Major de l'Armée de Terre (HQ French land forces); and SWIRMO 2011 took place at the Military Academy in Saldanha, South Africa, in cooperation with the South African National Defence Force. In 2012, the ICRC held the workshop in Kuala Lumpur, working in cooperation with the Malaysian Armed Forces. I am very pleased to announce that SWIRMO 2014 will be held in China, co-hosted by the People’s Liberation Army.

What would you like to achieve this year to bring to the next SWIRMO in 2014?

If, at the end of the workshop, participants return home thinking that SWIRMO was useful and if they pass on the message that it is not only necessary but also feasible to comply with the law when fulfilling military missions, then that would be the best achievement to bring to the next SWIRMO!


Raoul Forster 

Raoul Forster