Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Invasion: Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition

 By: Andrew Klein, Communications Volunteer          


“A few weeks after Country A crossed the border into Country B, an international mission, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, was sent to the region to evaluate and report on the crisis. The situation in northeast Country B is undeniably grim. However, the worst may be yet to come.

More than 2 million people live in northeast Country B. Since fighting began, over 215,000 people have been driven from their homes. While roughly half of these internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned, more than 100,000 people remained displaced, including tens of thousands of women and children” 

Country A believes strongly their actions are justified because Country B’s northern provinces have been hiding places for rebels who kill and maim in their effort to overthrow Country A’s government. Country B sees this as an oil-rich land grab with limited evidence of the accusation about the rebels. (A fictional account derived from reporting on real events)”

What really is justified under the law? What happens to all the displaced people? Whose responsibility is it to keep the utilities working, food available, and law and order in place? Who pays for this? Is this a humanitarian crisis? If so, will others in the region help? 

Many questions and many reference documents from conventions, treaties, and law. Diplomats and lawyers will be needed. Aid and assistance will be of paramount importance to the hundreds of thousands seeking to survive.

How is this resolved?

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members, and staff worldwide, and was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering.

International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.
International humanitarian law, like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, is inspired by considerations of humanity and the mitigation of human suffering. It comprises a set of rules, established by treaty or custom, that seeks to protect persons and property/objects that are, or may be, affected by armed conflict, and limits the rights of parties to a conflict to use methods and means of warfare of their choice. 

Sources of international law include international agreements – the Geneva Conventions, customary international law, general principles of nations, and case law. It defines the conduct and responsibilities of belligerent nations, neutral nations, and individuals engaged in warfare, in relation to each other and to protected persons, usually meaning non-combatants. It is designed to balance humanitarian concerns and military necessity, and subjects warfare to the rule of law by limiting its destructive effect and mitigating human suffering.
As in almost any disagreement, each side – or multiple sides  has their own perspective, rationale, and reasoning which justifies, to them, what they did or did not do – or why what others did is not right. It is not hard to imagine the above scenario is viewed very differently by all the direct and indirect parties to these events. Often, the United Nations or similar international bodies gather representatives of the parties in conflict, allowing debate and legal considerations to be aired. These are complex, emotional, and politicized gatherings. And while almost all parties subscribe to the rule of law, interpretation of events and the law produce vigorous, even boisterous, discussions.

The American Red Cross, in partnership with the Clara Barton Competition Corporation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), organizes and sponsors a competition to continue the spirit of Clara Barton’s work – the founder of the American Red Cross.

Some participants of the Clara Barton IHL Competition

The Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition is a simulation-based, experiential legal competition designed to expose rising professionals to the practice of IHL and to real-world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict. The Clara Barton IHL Competition is open to students currently pursuing Juris Doctor (J.D.), Bachelor of Laws (LL.B), or Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees at law schools in North, Central, and South America, as well as students attending United States and Canadian military academies and institutions. The 2021 Competition was held remotely during the weekends of  March 13-14, and March 20.

Final Round of the Competition

The Competition tests participants’ knowledge of international humanitarian law and public international law, as well as their ability to present, advocate for, and defend legal positions. This year, four teams made it to the verbal, debate-style face-off semi-finals. These were American University, the US Military Academy, the University of Buenos Aires, and the Loyola School of Law. The University of Buenos Aires was judged the champion. There are essay competitions that also brought some law schools, college undergraduates, and smart high schoolers into the international law discussions around topics of Child Soldiers and Girl’s Education.

The University of Buenos Aires team after finding out they won!

It is a challenging world out there and this competition is a chance to see and hear from the scholars who are likely to be part of the future of war and peace, justice, and the rule of law.


International Committee of the Red Cross:

The 2021 Competition Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition:

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