Human Rights

China: Hong Kong moot brings Asian perspective into International Humanitarian Law

Views

The 17th Red Cross International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Moot for Asia Pacific region, co-organized by the international Committee of the Red Cross and the Hong Kong Red Cross, has just concluded in Hong Kong. Peking University won the competition, the first time a Chinese mainland team has done so in the 17 years’ history of the moot. The University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was also among the top four finalists.

While the competition is aimed at enhancing knowledge and application of IHL and raising awareness of international humanitarian issues among law students, Anne Quintin, Head of the Advisory Services of the ICRC, believes it will help bring Asian perspective into IHL.

Anne Quintin at the Career Talk during the IHL moot court for Asia Pacific region in Hong Kong. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Xinyan LIU

1. We have been organizing the Asia Pacific moot for the past 17 years. What are the impacts?

It’s linked to prevention, one of the ICRC’s four approaches. Prevention, in the sense of the ICRC, is to create an environment that is conducive to respect for IHL, and for the work of the ICRC, should the need arise. The moot court competition is one way to contribute to the creation of a conducive environment for the respect for IHL. This is the precise impact of the moot court.

What is very important for the ICRC is the fact that we are able to bring experts from the entire region to help us as judges throughout the week. This is a platform of expertise, a platform of dialog, for experts from different universities, but also for experts from national societies, governments to come and help, and to meet regularly every year to exchange ideas. The network of experts is the key part of what we are doing with the moot court, who are themselves are teaching IHL and continuing to build the capacity by being involved in this network. And also a more mid- to long term impact is that we are creating generations of students who will have knowledge of IHL. They will grow. Some of them will become legal professionals, have positions that are very relevant, or potentially even work with the ICRC in the future. Some students who participated in the Moot Court several years ago are now working for the special tribunal for Lebanon, for the International Criminal Court, as well as for the International Court of Justice, for instance.

2. We know there are many other moot competitions around the world. What is the importance of organizing the Asia Pacific version of the competition?

The importance of the moot court is to bring in the Asian perspective into IHL. This AP moot is the second largest in the world and the largest at the regional level. For us, it’s a means to understand how IHL is understood in Asia, because every region has its own way of comprehending international law in general. It’s very useful for us to have that Asian perspective and try and adapt our messages to that Asian perspective on IHL. We have delegations in Asia to create networks for us to understand the culture more, to create a local network of experts. We really try to include Asian professors for international publications, such as the International Review of the Red Cross. We also rely on Asian professors to bring in the Asian perspective. We are now working with the Philippine delegation for the year book on IHL, which will also be one way to strengthen this approach of making the Asian perspective on IHL more present and visible.

3. How do you see IHL’s development and its integration in China in the long term?

I see big potential. China has a big influence in the region. I think it’s key that China also shows the example in the region by promoting IHL. We are able to do this moot court here in HK over the last 17 years and every year we have more and more universities and more countries that want to participate in. Today we already have 24 universities from the Asia Pacific region coming to the moot court. I think it already says a lot of the success and the willingness of states including China as the host to work on the promotion of IHL. I think this year in particular is also a good occasion to do more because it’s the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. We are looking at hosting some events with both Chinese government and academic circle.

4. How do you evaluate the acceptance of IHL in a country?

I am in charge of the advisory service on IHL. We have a network of legal advisors throughout the world. Through them we are able to assess the level of integration of IHL into their national legislation. Actually the unit of advisory service was created at the request of states at an international conference in 1995. States asked the ICRC to create the capacity to assist them in integrating international obligations into national legislation. We have been working with states to ensure national legislations are compatible with international obligations. We also work with national committees of IHL which are inter-ministerial committees that usually bring together Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, and the national society, etc. They themselves as government organs are also working on the implementation of international obligations into national legislation.

5. From a global perspective, what are the challenges for promoting IHL in the world?

One element to that is how we do promotion itself. The ICRC for a long time saw promotion as training on IHL mainly. We promote the integration of the IHL into the training of armed forces, the training at university level, etc, which is already contributing to respect for IHL.

We had a study recently called the Roots of Restraint in War which looks at why armed forces, armed groups, weapon bearers not decided to violate IHL, but decided to respect IHL. The study shows that traditional teaching of IHL works in very hierarchical groups, for military for instance. But in contemporary armed conflicts, we see armed groups are less and less vertically organized. They are also horizontally organized without a head but more multiplicity of factions that collaborate in a way. The study shows that teaching itself is not as efficient in those contexts. What is much more efficient is to link the training of IHL and promotion of rules applicable in armed conflicts to the local norms and culture, to find the local and social norms, religious beliefs that the group has accepted and integrated. This is more efficient in ensuring respect for IHL because it’s not just imposing IHL on the groups. I think this is one of the key challenges today.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ians Global Network.