Teaching and Research of International Humanitarian Law in Asia: Efforts, Issues and Prospects

Published date01 January 2015
Date01 January 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Military-Madrasa-Mullah Complex 1
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149
A Global Threat 1
Teaching and Research of
International Humanitarian
Law in Asia: Efforts, Issues
and Prospects
Pritam Ghosh1
In the twenty-first century, new research-prone areas have emerged in legal education which were
previously unknown to the legal fraternity. One such area is International Humanitarian Law (IHL) or the
Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). This can best be described as that branch of International Human Rights
Law which deals with provisions for humanitarian relief and humane treatment of victims of war and
is applicable only during war or armed conflicts. The study and research of IHL has become imperative
due to the rise in the number of armed conflicts in the twenty-first century concentrated mainly in
Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and the subsequent desire of the international community to
reduce that number. Against this background discussion, this article gives a brief account of the academic
efforts taking place across the globe to make this subject an integral part of law school curriculum. The
article starts with a description as to how IHL was first accepted as a part of any standard courses in
law particularly in the West. Further, the efforts undertaken in Asia are analyzed followed by the reasons
as to why IHL has still not gained acceptance as a full-fledged course in Asia. Finally, the article ends with
recommendations regarding what the Asian legal fraternity needs to do to increase awareness about
IHL and to make it a mandatory teaching module in all Asian law schools.
Ever since the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in 1949 and their two Additional Protocols in 1977,
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) has emerged as a branch of law having its own distinct identity
and content. Also known as the Law of War or Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), IHL is considered by
the international scholarly community to be a branch of International Human Rights Law (along with
being a constituent branch of Public International Law) that deals with humane treatment and provisions
for relief of war victims and is applicable only during armed conflicts. Such victims primarily include
1 Assistant Professor, School of Law, Alliance University, India.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
2(1) 1–16
© 2015 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005814552691
Corresponding author:
Pritam Ghosh is an Assistant Professor, School of Law, Alliance University, India.
E-mail: gpritam2001@gmail.com
2 Asian Journal of Legal Education 2(1)
the wounded, sick and shipwrecked on the land and in the sea2 along with those who have been placed
hors de combat, that is, persons who are no longer able to take part actively in any ongoing hostilities
due to (a) sickness, (b) wounds, (c) detention or (d) any other cause.
It is noteworthy that the general mandate of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols
require States Parties to disseminate the content of IHL in their respective countries. It is extremely
important to promote the knowledge of IHL amongst those whom it is intended to protect, namely, the
civilian population3 which is mainly constituted by law students, scholars and teachers and practitioners.
Along with the civilians, the other category of people who require detailed knowledge of this subject are
the armed forces and those in command of such forces including defence ministries. Over the last two
decades ever since war has been on the rise,4 a lot of activities relating to the teaching of IHL to all these
stakeholders have been pursued around the globe. Simultaneously, generating quality research work in
this area has also been a priority for countries.
However, an exception is the Asian region where efforts undertaken so far have left a lot to be desired.
In spite of almost all the Asian countries being signatories to the Geneva Conventions and its two
protocols, this region has shown inadequacy of training and research activities. A need is therefore felt
to devise ways and to teach the civil society in this part of the world about its all-round contemporary
In the light of the above background discussion, this article has been written with the primary objective
of formulating innovative methods by which the knowledge and awareness of the LOAC can be spread
effectively in Asia. It starts off by discussing the general acceptance of IHL as a part of law school
curriculum and a subject of extensive research in the West and goes on to elaborate on the efforts
undertaken generally by various academic institutions in the region to spread awareness about the laws
of war. It then moves on to Asia with an elaborate analysis of the endeavours of the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and ends with recommendations as to how the teaching–learning
process of IHL can become smoother and in sync with contemporary times.
Acceptance of International Humanitarian Law as a Part of Law School
Curriculum in the West
Since the 1990s, IHL has gained global recognition as a separate branch of law with the establishment of
the two ad hoc criminal tribunals in Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) through their respective
2 The four Geneva Conventions are Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces
in the Field, of August 12, 1949; Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked
Members of the Armed Forces at Sea, of August 12, 1949; Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, of
August 12, 1949; Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, of August 12, 1949; The two
Additional Protocols, namely Protocol I relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts and Protocol II
relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-international Armed Conflicts simply extend the application of the Geneva Conventions
to the respective types of armed conflicts they deal with.
3 Umesh Kadam, Teaching International Humanitarian Law: An Overview of an ICRC Dissemination Programme, 82 Intl Rev
Red CRoss 841 (March 31, 2001), available at http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/57jqyx.htm (last visited March
8, 2014).
4 The Gulf Conflict, Counter-terrorism operations by the US and the UK and internal conflicts in the middle-east and Africa are the
major events that have plagued continents since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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