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Review of the "Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL)" Programme


by Dr Dragan Popadic, professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which is the subject matter of this project, is a branch of international law that aims to limit the use of violence and the consequences of violence in an armed conflict. The programme of exploring humanitarian law is intended for adolescents of 13-18 years of age. The programme is conceived in such a way as to make its inclusion possible both in school curricula and in extracurricular activities. This has been achieved by the organisation of the entire programme into 5 modules, each of which contains a number of activities (sessions) lasting 45-60 minutes. These activities, totaling 30, can be implemented fully as a separate subject, or as a selection of the ones most relevant for a particular context, or some of them can be integrated into other subjects and/or similar programmes.

In addition to the introductory and closing explorations, the programme consists of 5 basic modules, with the following contents:

 Module 1 · The humanitarian perspective - 5 sessions  


1A: What can bystanders do? - 3 sessions

1B: Looking at humanitarian acts - 1 session

1C: A bystander’s dilemma - 1 session

 Module 2 · Limits in armed conflict - 7 sessions  


2A: Limiting the devastation - 2 sessions

2B: Codes over time - 1 session

2C: Child soldiers - 2 sessions

2D: Forbidden weapons: antipersonnel mines-2 sessions

 Module 3 · The law in action - 6 sessions  

3A: Identifying violations - 1 session

3B: Perspective of a combatant - 2 sessions

3C: Who is responsible? - 1 session

3D: Case study: Mi Lai - 2 sessions

 Module 4 · Ensuring justice - 4 sessions  

4A: Rationales for justice - 2 sessions

4B: Evolution of international tribunals - 2 sessions

 Module 5 · Responding to the consequences of armed conflict - 6 sessions  

5A: Needs arising from war - 1 session

5B: Planning a camp for IDPs - 1 session

5C: Protecting prisoners - 2 sessions

5D: Restoring family links - 1 session

5E: Ethics of humanitarian action - 1 session

The list of topics already clearly indicates that the programme is not about merely acquiring information about the IHL, nor is the IHL the only matter it deals with. The programme is, above all, aiming to deal with ethical and humanitarian issues arising in armed conflicts, and the main education objectives are to develop awareness of the necessity of existence of humanitarian norms, to understand different perspectives and to encourage interest and the feeling of responsibility for local and international events. These objectives are to be achieved by treating concrete cases, which serve as an incentive to formulate and focus on the dilemmas and possibly juxtaposed standpoints; finally, possible answers from the point of view of IHL are offered through debate. Armed conflicts which serve as a basis for dealing with IHL questions come from different historical periods and geographical regions. Without ideological judgments concerning causes and outcomes of these wars and parties to the conflict, cases in which violations of IHL have or could have occurred are analysed; through different forms of activities the violations and their possible motives are then identified, ways of how such situations can be avoided are debated, and ways to deliberate justice, solidarity, responsibility and other values are sought. There are not conclusions that have to become obligatory for all students, but there are clearly defined messages which teachers need to highlight during the treatment of the topics.

What distinguishes this programme from other similar ones is the superior level of the preparation of the programme itself and the outstanding quality of the education material put at the disposal of students, teachers and teacher trainers. Each session is worked out in detail, with clear time structure and activities. The education material developed within this programme contains teaching material, implementation guide, and methodology guide for teachers and their trainers.

 Teaching material provides texts, photos, posters, worksheets which can be photocopied, as well as video tapes.

 Methodology guide for teachers and teacher trainers is, on one hand, a detailed manual for teachers which helps them apply varied strategies in the course of their work, and, on the other, is a teacher-training manual. The guide explains the use of debate, brainstorming, role playing, dilemma, work in small groups, workshops, etc. For each of these techniques there is an explanation on what it consists of, its objectives, its application, the difficulties it may encounter, how to evaluate it.

It is important to stress that the time and contents structure of the programme does not put the teacher in a position to have to carry out a minutely planned activity rigidly and repetitively. Even on the level of the material provided, the teacher is given a choice of making selections, and he/she is also encouraged to search for his/her own material.

The training programme, worked out in detail, makes the training of future teachers easy and makes it possible even for the teachers without experience in similar programmes to implement EHL . It would, still, be better if the future teachers have already have experience with similar programmes and/or workshop type of activities and interactive teaching, and if their trainers have trained in similar programmes.

Not only would the experience in similar programmes contribute to a better implementation of this programme, but the training and practice of EHL would be of an important transfer value for the teachers involved, also for other subjects/programmes they teach. Similarly, the students exposed to this programme would not only acquire the knowledge and values of IHL but also the practice of group debate, active learning and workshop methods.

Even though the programme is not, strictly speaking, just about a branch of law, it is however somewhat more specific than some other projects belonging to the wider area of education for democracy and civic education. It would therefore be ideal if this programme in the educatio n process be integrated with similar programmes dealing with the themes of human rights and tolerance.

Regardless of the fact that the EHL does not specifically treat events from our recent history, but builds on numerous situations from wars waged throughout the world throughout history, in the society like ours, which has gone through a series of armed conflicts, this programme necessarily opens a number of traumatic questions, some of which have remained taboos. This fact puts both teachers and students into a delicate position and that is why this dimension will merit particular attention in the training of teachers, notably in determining to what extent and in what way to deal with the past decade's events in this country and the region.

Finally, it may seem that teaching/learning IHL is needed in the societies where war operations are going on or, as a form of prevention, where they threaten to erupt, and that therefore its introduction into our social milieu comes too late. Indeed, the violations of IHL in this region and the reactions of the population to such violations demonstrate how poor and insufficient the knowledge and acceptance of IHL both among civilians and armed formations was, and suggest that the violations would not have happened on such a large scale had the citizens been better informed. But even after the wars, the knowledge of IHL is needed in order to get the insight into and clarification of what exactly happened in the wars in former Yugoslavia and to foster an informed and free debate the issues of responsibility, justice and reconciliation.

The EHL education programme is a programme of superior quality with the clearly defined and highly relevant objectives and with a detailed and carefully worked out plan, programme and teacher-training process. I am convinced that the implementation of this progra mme would bring great benefit to both students and teachers in this country.

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