By Michael H. Hoffman
Civil and military leaders often claim that their forces always administer and obey international humanitarian law (IHL). How those leaders reply to one simple question can do much to support—or undermine—their claims. What training do your forces receive in IHL?
The 1949 Geneva Conventions contain a provision compelling states to include the “study” of IHL in “programmes of military and, if possible, civil instruction, so that the principles thereof may become known to the entire population, in particular to the armed fighting forces, the medical personnel and chaplains.” By extension, insurgents are expected to provide similar instruction to their own forces. Ultimate responsibility for IHL training remains with political authorities and military leaders. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies also conduct IHL training for civilians in many parts of
Military instruction is, generally, hands-on in nature. Effective IHL training for soldiers usually requires a practical, problem-solving approach. Some armed forces integrate IHL-linked scenarios into their training exercises, others rely more on classroom presentation. In some armed forces IHL training is by military assistance teams from other countries. There are also militaries that offer little or no training, and a few that are not aware that this body of law exists.
Two civilian institutions play an important role in IHL training. The ICRC has a Division for Relations with Armed and Security Forces that conducts IHL training using a multinational faculty composed of retired military officers. The International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy, attracts military officers from around the world to its intensive IHL courses taught by IHL experts on active duty with their nations’ armed forces.
Armed forces that have not yet developed a program of IHL instruction can attain it externally from the military forces of allied nations and/or internationally recognized institutions. There is no real excuse for leaders who fail to train their armed forces in IHL.