Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be asked to apply for the 30th Course on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and hosted by the Polish Red Cross, bring held in Warsaw, Poland from 27 August to 6 September, 2012. I was selected, along with the new IHL legal counsel from National HQ to represent the American Red Cross at this prestigious training course. The course is 10 days of intensive study in IHL, including 32 participants from 24 countries and a variety of backgrounds, including a number of Red Crossers, of course, but including others from various Ministries, MSF, HRCand other NGOs, as well as PhD and law students from several universities. It’s being held at Palace Radziejowice, 40 km outside of Warsaw.

I arrived in Warsaw on Sunday, 26 August, with just under 24 hours before I needed to report at the Polish Red Cross office and meet my cohorts. I did get a chance to do some sightseeing in that time, which I was grateful for, never having been to Poland before, or indeed, never being this far east in Europe before.

After arriving at the Polish Red Cross office on Monday afternoon, I began to meet the rest of the participants who I will be sharing the next 10 days with, including my to-be roommate, Hanneke from The Netherlands. After a long drive through rush hour traffic we arrived at the Palace, were shown to our rooms, had a nice light dinner and did some socializing, introducing ourselves and sampling food and drink specialties from across the nations represented. Then we all retired to rest up (and try to recover from jet lag) before our first full day of the course.

It’s only been one full day of training, and I already feel as though I’ve gained more insight into the workings of IHL. We had a fun introductory session including some role-playing this morning and discussed some of the difficulties in negotiating with armed groups and helping them to understand the importance of humanitarian law. This afternoon we had a fantastic session on the Scope of Application of IHL, facilitated by a member of the ICRC Legal Division. We had a chance to delve into the nuances of when IHL applies, the classifications of international armed conflict (IAC) v. non-international armed conflict (NIAC), occupations, or other types of violence (not considered “conflict”) and the criteria for determining whether and what type of conflict is occurring, which is important for the ICRC in fulfilling its mandates but also for determining which law is applicable in any given conflict, be it The Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols, Human Rights Law, domestic law, or customary international law (or a combination thereof). These questions are so much more complex than they seem at first glance, and the session brought up a number of real-world examples such as Syria, Libya, and others which illustrated the differences between types of conflicts.

Stay tuned in the coming days to hear more about ongoing sessions, including a few fields trips we have planned and other exciting details about the course!