This past Tuesday, the IHL team kicked off their “Munchin’ on IHL” lunch time series to a packed house here at national headquarters. The weekly series aims to explore the fundamentals of international humanitarian law by discussing their applicability to modern conflicts. The first of the six sessions focused on the conflict in Ukraine, where mass protests became a civil war, which devolved further into a potential international conflict. We used this transition to discuss the concept of an “armed conflict” and when exactly IHL would apply. Specifically, that while all four Geneva Conventions apply to situations where two States are in conflict, only a single provision—Common Article 3—applied to those involving rebel forces and other non-state actors.
This week, the conversation shifts to Syria, as we discuss the mounting civilian death toll in that civil war, and how IHL protects those not engaged in hostilities. This fundamental role of IHL draws a distinction between combatants and civilians, and defines how civilians can lose their protection from harm by taking up arms and directly participating in the conflict.
Over the six week series, participants will dive further in to the substance of IHL by exploring specific provisions protecting women and children, cultural objects, and objects containing dangerous forces (e.g., nuclear power plants). These conversations will take us to conflicts in Mali, Colombia, and beyond. Finally, the lunch time series will explore accountability, as we look at the judicial mechanisms that give the law its teeth, and how it can be apply to the near impunity in which war crimes have been committed in Syria.