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Moderator: Elizabeth Stubbins Bates
Speakers: Vincent Bernard, Laurie Blank, David E. Graham and Brad Gutierrez
In 1864 twelve nations adopted the first Geneva Convention (GC) in order to better aid sick and wounded on the battlefield. Now 150 years and several GCs later, this panel considered how much progress the international community has made and contemporary approaches to generating respect for the Conventions.
Article 1 of each of the four 1949 GCs requires States party to “respect and ensure respect” for the Conventions. And each of the four GCs requires States to disseminate the text “so that the principles thereof may become known to their armed forces and to the general population.”
The panel first addressed whether existing dissemination efforts were sufficient to promote compliance. Speakers agreed with Vincent Bernard that dissemination in its classic form was not effective. Providing the Conventions to military forces to read and classroom instruction can be a start but is not sufficient- training is required. Speaking from a clinical legal education perspective, Laurie Blank emphasized that dissemination “must speak to all three strands of LOAC: training/education, implementation, and accountability.”
The panel agreed that an ongoing challenge was educating the civilian population on the laws of war. Brad Gutierrez discussed the results of a 2011 American Red Cross (ARC) survey which revealed that 55% of US respondents were “somewhat familiar” with the GCs but over half those respondents thought torture was permissible. And over 80% indicated that they would like to know more about LOAC. To that end, ARC is employing a multi-faceted approach to dissemination including: High school students; college students; and professionals. ARC is also utilizing experiential learning opportunities including recent moot court competition and a refugee simulation.
An offshoot of the challenge of educating the general population is that (1) most armed conflicts are non-international; (2) these conflicts are fought by organized armed groups comprised of civilians and (3) effective dissemination cannot be reactionary to violations, the training must be occur in peace time and during conflict in order mitigate the moral disengagement and ignorance which leads to violations.
The discussion ended with comparing approaches to dissemination with a focus on technology. Vincent Bernard discussed, and demonstrated the ICRC’s online training centre, which includes training modules and virtual reality tools. While one questioner challenged Vincent on the efficacy of training dependent on technology in the context of non-state actors, Vincent contended that the internet provides the ICRC much broader access to such groups. Brad Gutierrez noted that ARC is engaging with video game developers on the possibility of incorporated aspects of LOAC into the games, including game penalties for violations use of protective emblems.
Dave Graham closed out the session with a poignant reference to the Peers report, which investigated the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The report criticized U.S. LOAC training of its military as too abstract, that the law must be made relevant and important to service members. Ultimately, the challenge, then and now, is dissemination of the LOAC that answers the question “Why do I need to know and follow the Geneva Conventions?”
Chris Jenks is an Assistant Professor of Law and the Clinical Justice Clinic Director at SMU Dedman School of Law.