Compte-rendu : Summer Training on International Humanitarian Law

Shirine Arab

The summer course was organized by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL) – San Remo, ITALY

San Remo / Geneva, 2-13 July 2018

Le Droit international humanitaire (DIH), défini comme la branche du droit international limitant l’utilisation de la violence dans les conflits armés (A. BOUVIER, M. SASSOLI) se rapproche et complète le droit international des droits de l’Homme (DIDH). Le droit humanitaire est représenté par l’ensemble des règles – internes et internationales – qui régissent les situations et comportements dans les conflits armés qu’il s’agisse de personnes ou de biens protégés en raison de leur absence de participation au conflit ou qu’il s’agisse des moyens et méthodes de combat que les belligérants peuvent ou non employer.

The Summer training on IHL, which gathers practitioners, academics, diplomats and humanitarians’ representatives from the field, seeks to improve the knowledge in Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law as well as their implementations in today’s conflicts. The training allowed participants to learn and exchange views on the mechanisms (conventional, diplomatic, and jurisdictional) and the methods used, in the headquarters and the fields, to ensure a better implementation and/or effectiveness of IHL in today’s conflicts.

In this context, the course was rich in theoretical lectures and practical exercises on IHL that helped the participants understand, practically, the current challenges the law faces on the ground. For instance, I have chaired a working group on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, to advise on the general measures to be taken during and after a multinational UN Force as to protect, to the maximum extent possible, civilians and the civilian population under threat of attack in an example of a Non-International Armed Conflict (NIAC). Other working groups were also organised to discuss internal displacement, irregular migration by sea, the Law of Occupation, the Principle of Distinction in IHL, and other related issues.

As for the Geneva programme, it was fully provided with workshops and dialogues with Chiefs’ sections at the OHCHR, ICRC, and UNHCR to discuss their roles in the implementation of IHL, their current protection environment, challenges and responses, particularly in the Middle East (Community-Based protection for Syrian refugees), their work in Emergencies, and some of the ICRC’s operations in the Sahel Region. The Geneva stay gave the chance to share my Lajeh field experiences with officers at Headquarters and discuss their work and challenges in response to the consequences of armed conflicts and the dire humanitarian situation, such as their work with partners, their support to local facilities, the provision of family-link services to dispersed families, etc.

In substance, one of the critical point of international humanitarian law is the gap between the mechanisms articulated by the texts – notably conventional mechanisms – and the reality in the humanitarian field, besides the lack of willingness and the incapacity of states to fulfil, particularly for political reasons, the obligations they have subscribed to under Public International Law. In fact, this situation affects the image of international humanitarian law and its capacity to govern the protection situations for which it is intended. The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols, which were discussed intensively during the course, contain specific obligations intended for the states parties. These obligations are reinforced by the general rules of public international law and the rules of domestic public law, the effectiveness and/or implementation of which are often more convincing! As the conventional mechanisms are ineffective, new ways and mechanisms have been sought in recent years. Often, consensus and diplomatic mechanisms are more adequate than the traditional ones emphasized by the texts, notably for obtaining protection and ensuring the protection of civilians against the hardships of war, IDPs, as well as women and children in armed conflicts. For instance, local and international agreements to reach populations in need are necessary in conflicts that have an international dimension. When it comes to the implementation and/or effectiveness, it will be observed that there is a recent trend for the involvement of a plurality of actors and civil society organisations to play a role they had not intended to do originally, or they had to achieve in only a complementary or subsidiary way. A cross-cutting and integrated dynamic is needed to include, notably legal and non-legal mechanisms, diplomatic means and consents with all parties to ensure the necessary protection. In other words, the implementation should not be seen solely through the prism of international law.

I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the level of instruction provided by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law based on practical and relevant dialogue with participants and experts from across the world. A certificate in IHL was awarded at the end of the course at the IIHL’s Liaison Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

[1] International Institute of Humanitarian Law: