On Monday, we began our second set of classroom sessions, again with some fantastic guest lecturers. To talk about all of them would be too cumbersome here, so I will again hit on two of my personal favorites. Yesterday afternoon we had a fascinating discussion on persons deprived of liberty, including POWs and other detainees, opening with a discussion of whether a particular situation can be neither legal nor illegal, with Guantanamo Bay as the sample. As an American, I felt a bit awkward at first during this discussion, but found that my perspective was shared by others in the room and that my thoughts on the subject were sought specifically because it’s such as controversial issue. We had a long discussion about the various bodies of law that can be applicable in the regulation of detention, including IHL of course, but also Human Rights Law, Refugee Law, national laws, Law of the Sea, International Constitutional Law, and state responsibility for injury to aliens. Some of these were quite new to me, not having a legal background, and I was grateful for this discussion as we talked about the various circumstances under which someone could be detained and how that determines which of the laws apply, and therefore how the person(s) are protected, treated, and possibly prosecuted. One of the things this course as a whole has really helped me to understand is this broad field of international law – I had a tendency to think of IHL in its own bubble, sometimes considering Human Rights Law or Refugee Law, or very specific UN Conventions, but I have a new appreciation now for how broad this field is and how difficult it can be at times to determine what is applicable given the complicated circumstances that arise in real conflicts.

On Tuesday morning, we were treated to a lecture by Marco Sassoli, an esteemed expert in the field of IHL and co-author of an amazing resource: How does law protect in war? Cases, documents, and teaching materials on contemporary practice in international humanitarian law, published by the ICRC. Sassoli spoke about non-international armed conflict (NIAC), which, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is a much stickier conflict classification than international armed conflict (IAC), under which the laws are more elucidated. Many states consider NIAC and IAC to be profoundly different circumstances, but humanitarians made a push for greater inclusion of NIAC in IHL because they felt fighters and other affected by NIAC should be afforded the same protections as those in IAC, which largely resulted in the development of the Additional Protocols of 1977. This session was particularly useful to me, having not had the opportunity in the past to spend much time thinking about the legal differences between persons involved in NIAC vs. IAC, and how those legal differences result in different protections afforded to those affected by conflict. This is made even more complicated by the fact that while the Geneva Conventions of 1949 have been universally ratified, not all states are parties to one or both of the Additional Protocols of 1977, so determining status and protections can be much more complicated than I appreciated before.

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