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Geneva: military officers learn to turn rules of war into concrete actions

30-10-2008 News Release 08/195

Geneva (ICRC) – Seeking to turn theory into practice, senior military officers from around the world will gather in Geneva on 3 November to consider concrete steps that can be taken to integrate the rules of armed conflict into training and procedures, thereby limiting the effects of war on civilians and their property.

The officers will be participants in this year's Senior Workshop on International Rules Governing Military Operations, organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss Armed Forces.

" It is civilians who suffer most in armed conflicts around the world, " said Yves Daccord, ICRC director of communication. " Today, civilians account for the overwhelming majority of war casualties. But this can change. By making international humanitarian law more easily understandable and accessible to military personnel, the ICRC hopes to give combatants the guidance they need to make the right choices. It is imperative that knowledge of the rules also results in behaviour that follows the rules. "

Senior officers from 51 countries will take part in the two-week workshop in Geneva and Stans (near Lucerne). They come from countries that have been experiencing armed conflict such Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burundi, or from NATO member States such as the United Kingdom and the United States. During the first week, participants will focus on how to determine the law applicable in given situations and how best to integrate it into military training and procedures. Their discussions will address a variety of topics, including the conduct of operations, the behaviour of fighters in the field, peace-support operations and command responsibility. During the second week, a practical demonstration will be given by the Swiss Armed Forces.

" This course provides participants with guidance for implementing both the law of armed conflict and applicable human rights law. We want to ensure that the legal principles and rules that have been a greed upon by the majority of States are integrated into military doctrine, education and training, " said Timothy Yates, an adviser in the ICRC's Unit for Relations with Armed and Security Forces and former British army officer.

Building on the success of a similar course held last year, the workshop is to become an annual event held alternately in Switzerland and another country. In 2009, France will be the first alternate country to host the course.

" High-quality training is needed now more than ever, and the Swiss Armed Forces welcome the opportunity to host this important event, " said Lieutenant General Luc Fellay, formerly commander of the Swiss land forces and now special adviser to the director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. " Switzerland has a longstanding commitment to strengthening international humanitarian law, a commitment which goes back to 1847 when the commander of the Swiss federal troops, General Guillaume-Henri Dufour, ordered his men to refrain from harming civilians. He went on to become the first president of the ICRC. "

The ICRC maintains relations with the armed forces of some 160 countries, about 60 armed groups, and several private military and security companies in an effort to ensure that they comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) in their operations. This is in response to the international community's request for the ICRC to help integrate IHL, also known as the law of war or law of armed conflict, into the education, training doctrine and operations of armed forces around the world. The ICRC also strives to ensure that other weapon bearers abide by these rules and in particular that they allow humanitarian workers to perform their tasks.

  For further information, please contact:
  Michelle Rockwell, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 9311

Editor's note: Jakob Kellenberger, president of the ICRC, and Lieutenant General Luc Fellay, special adviser to the director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, will speak at the opening ceremony at Les Vernets Barracks in Geneva on 3 November from 9 until 11 a.m. Journalists are invited to attend. In addition, several attendees will be available for interview upon request towards the end of the first week.

  SWIRMO 2008 - Senior Workshop on International Rules Governing Military Operations  For further information regarding ICRC's activities with arms carriers