May 5, 2016 was Graduation Day for 34 international officers and civilian officials who attended the DIILS Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights (LCHR) course. The three-week seminar at Naval Station Newport, RI enabled these participants to ascertain how they, and their respective countries, can enhance the lawful conduct of military operations within and beyond national boundaries. In order to present a range of perspectives, the instructors included U.S. and international legal experts from the military, government, academia, and international organizations. The participants, from 21 countries, also learned about American culture and history through field studies programs during the course.
During this Expanded International Military Education and Training (EIMET) seminar, the participants, including civilians and officers ranging in rank from Brigadier General to Lieutenant, compared national legal frameworks and engaged in practical exercises to illustrate the challenges of applying the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and International Human Rights law in a variety of operational settings. They analyzed a range of LOAC and human rights issues facing military forces today, including gender violence as a tactic of war, ROE, human rights in domestic operations, terrorism and human rights, child soldiers, torture, command responsibility, transitional justice, transparency in military justice, targeting, including air targeting, UN mechanisms for protecting human rights, detention operations, NGO relations and refugee issues.
In addition to presentations on these topics, topical films and video clips illustrated the complex nature of operational challenges during conflict, while group exercises and discussion groups guided the participants toward developing practical and workable approaches for the application of international human rights standards. The course also emphasized the importance of a positive professional working relationship between operational lawyers and commanders, in order to enhance operational effectiveness and ensure compliance with LOAC. The use of a firearms simulation system enables participants to apply and evaluate their knowledge of Rules of engagement (ROE) in a realistic setting.
DIILS conducted a number of field studies programs designed to introduce the participants to American culture and provide some historical context for the democratic ideals reflected in the U.S. Constitution and our laws. They visited the Mashantucket Pequot Native American Museum in Connecticut, where they explored the Native American culture. They toured historic Newport, Rhode Island, where they learned about New England history. While in New York City, they toured Manhattan and experienced the cultural diversity of America's most dynamic and influential city. One participant stated, "the experience in NYC was fantastic and the visit to the UN headquarters was memorable," while another shared, "I was so impressed to see people from different cultural backgrounds living together peacefully."
During the academic portion of the visit to New York, they toured the UN and met with experts from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner for Refugees, Peace Building Support Office and the UNDPKO Conduct and Discipline Unit. An expert on child soldiers from Human Rights Watch also addressed the class. One of the highlights of the New York visit was a presentation by Peggy Kuo, a federal Magistrate Judge and former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), who successfully prosecuted three officers of rape and sexual slavery atrocities in the Bosnian town of Foca during the 1990s. The ICTY Foca trials have had a profound and lasting impact on efforts to combat sexual violence in times of war. Ms Kuo also appeared in the critically acclaimed documentary "Women, War and Peace: I Came to Testify" that examined the Foca war crimes and the subsequent ICTY trials. Participants described their meeting with her as "impressive" and "a highlight of the course."
Participants were uniformly positive in their appraisal of the LCHR course as a valuable learning experience with practical applications for their professional development. They praised the "the well-structured course program, the professionalism of the instructors and the whole DIILS team, as well as the variety of topics covered." They also valued "the friendly atmosphere, frank discussions, well organized and executed events" and "admired the effort to involve all students in the teaching/learning process."
At the LCHR graduation ceremony, the Honorable Todd Buchwald, Director of the Office of Global Justice at the U.S. State Department addressed the class. He stressed the critical role of human rights and LOAC in conflict and US foreign policy. He addressed many of the key human rights issues attendant to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, as well as some of the U.S. foreign policy challenges in Africa and Asia.