Wednesday was our last day of sessions at the IHL course, and during these we had a chance to look more into implementation and prosecution than in previous sessions, which was quite useful and a nice way to wrap up the course. We had a discussion about the various points of implementation, including during peace and during war, preventive measures and consequences. We also talked about the non-legal elements that contribute to respect for IHL, which for me can be some of the most powerful deterrents to violations and reasons to uphold the law, including feelings of honor and duty, respect and support of the civilian population as a basic level, reciprocity, and to facilitate rebuilding after the conflict ends.

Our final session was on crimes; a fantastic session which really helped me understand the nuances in different types of crime classification and an historical perspective on prosecution. It’s easy to be confused by the differences between war crimes, grave breaches, crimes against humanity, and genocide – often these terms are used interchangeably by those outside of the field of law, but they all carry distinct definitions, based on the type of crime being committed, the circumstances surrounding it, and the victims or targets of the crime. There was also a chance to speak briefly about individual criminal responsibility, that as an individual you have the duty to not only follow lawful orders, but the duty to NOT follow unlawful ones. This is an important point, and one that often gets glazed over, but an important reminder that there is a great deal of responsibility at the individual level for upholding and respecting IHL, not just at the state level, and drives home the importance of IHL dissemination during both wartime and times of peace.

This is my last post on the amazing experience that was my ICRC IHL Course in Warsaw this summer. It’s been a couple of weeks since I got home, and I’ve had even more chance to reflect on my time there. The last few days went by too fast; my fellow participants and I did a great deal of bonding in those ten days and in addition to the outstanding course sessions, guest speakers, and our hosts from the ICRC and Polish Red Cross, I feel as though I’ve made some great friends among my colleagues in the field of IHL, including several from other Red Cross National Societies. I look forward to our continued conversation and collaboration in the coming months and years.