At Bradley, I have encountered a lot of people who don’t understand why we advocate for international humanitarian law (IHL) on a college campus. Many people will say “we’re not in a war zone, so why does it matter” or “how does this apply to me?” These are both great questions to ask! IHL has a lot more lessons to teach than just the laws themselves. Being a part of the IHL Action Campaign is not only educational, but eye opening to what kind of behaviors and thought patterns are considered “just” in the international community at large.
It is easy to see the laws laid out, and think “well I’m not a sailor or a medic, and I’m certainly not a citizen in a war-stricken area,” but there is so much more to interpret from these laws. When studying international law, you learn a lot about human behavior and how we go about attempting to control it. IHL helps you learn about how we create common standards about what is considered “right” and “wrong” among people of vastly different cultures. IHL also sheds significant light on the importance of considering priorities when making decisions. International humanitarian law is not only useful for its specific decrees, but also what it can show you about the international system and human interaction.
Our Action Campaign team chose to focus on Healthcare in Danger for our 2015-2016 Campaign. The focus of our Campaign centered around the concept that there are limits to when seemingly opposite forces can be considered “the enemy.” We created several interactive posts where we would show the people going through the Campaign why people who are not on your side in conflict are not always justified targets.
In the first post, “Protection of the Wounded and Sick,” we showed participants through an interactive scenario how they could apply IHL in a war situation. We had various wounded soldiers marked with bandanas to differentiate which side of the conflict they were on. Participants were also given a bandana that indicated which fictional opponent they were supposed to represent. The participants were given the task of gathering and treating the wounded in the correct order. The goal of the simulation was to show participants why it is important to care for the wounded based on severity of injury rather than whether or not they support the same side of the conflict as you.
Another post was called “Protection of Medical Personnel.” In this post, we showed participants various photographs of the Red Cross symbols that indicate that they should not be targeted. If vehicles are marked with Red Cross affiliated symbols, they cannot be legitimate military targets during times of war unless occupied by a violent group instead of medical personnel or those seeking medical care. We also went over why it is so important that medical personnel are protected during times of war. Medical personnel are useful to all sides and should be protected for the benefit of all parties in conflict.
Overall, the goal of our IHL Action Campaign this year has been to educate the public on humanitarian law in a way that makes sense to them. If we can show people through interactive programs how IHL can be used, it will be much easier to understand. A new goal that we have for the future of our team is to show people the value of knowing about international law even if it does not directly apply to you. International law has a lot to offer to the international community, but also the individual mind. We look forward to continuing our Healthcare in Danger Campaign this semester and continuing to reach out to our community and student body to spread awareness about the rules of war.
Author: Kat Chadderdon, Bradley University IHL Action Campaign Team, Central and Southern Illinois Region
*The purpose of the IHL Action Campaign is for young people to teach their peers about the importance of IHL, as well as issues related to healthcare in danger, torture, and humanitarianism.