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A lesson in IHL

The final round of the Jean-Pictet competition took place at the Federation in September 2002. The Jean-Pictet competition, established in 1989, enables teams comprising three students in law, political science or military academies to take part in role-playing and simulations in international humanitarian law.

The participants are put in imaginary situations where they must decide how to react as Red Cross delegates, military personnel, politicians or other. The general objective is to enable the participants to simulate conflict and note how individual decisions affect the situation of victims of armed conflicts. This exercise provides highly specialized legal training, but is also emotionally very demanding.

In February 2002, the teams from Louvain (Belgium) and Utrecht (Netherlands) were selected from among 26 teams from five continents at the English-speaking session held in Portugal.

The following month, the teams from Fribourg (Switzerland) and Rouen (France) came out champions of the French-speaking session.

During the finals, the participants played the representatives of Equatorial Faramine - an imaginary mixture of Afghanistan, Cyprus and Taiwan - where war has raged for months. A jury composed of experienced people from the Federation, ICRC and UNHCR, foreign and Swiss officials, representatives of humanitarian organizations and academics served as judges and awarded the Jean-Pictet Prize 2002 to the team from the University of Friboug in Switzerland.

The Nepalese track

Humanitarian needs keep growing in Nepal, where government forces are fighting an armed rebel group, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. In this rather chaotic situation, the ICRC focuses its activities on protecting civilians from the effects of the violence, visiting people detained in connection with the clashes and, in cooperation with the Nepal
Red Cross Society (NRCS), promoting international humanitarian law.

The ICRC and the NRCS have jointly set up a Red Cross message network to facilitate the exchange of news between detainees and their relatives in places where family visits are unfeasible and normal postal services are unavailable. These messages are the only communication the detainees have with their families. The distribution of Red Cross messages in the often-remote villages of Nepal is ensured by the volunteers of the NRCS, which has branches in all of the country's 75 districts.

A Golan wedding

For 21-year-old Souheir and her fiancé, 28-year-old Wissam, Thursday, 4 July 2002 was a golden day, their wedding day. The old adage "true love never runs smooth" has a deep resonance when it comes to couples living on either side of the demarcation line dividing Syria and the Golan plateau, which Israel has occupied since 1967. Wissam and Souheir knew that it might be years before the wedding could take place, and that the logistics of the event would be difficult. It would also mean the bride leaving her family, perhaps forever, for having once crossed the demarcation line and joined her husband-to-be on the Israeli-occupied side, it would be nearly impossible to go back again.

Once official permission to marry from the Israeli and Syrian authorities had been obtained, they turned to the ICRC for help with the practical details of their wedding. Indeed ICRC delegations in Damascus and Tel Aviv often assist prospective couples living on opposite sides of the demarcation line. With the help of the UN Truce Supervision Organization and the UN Disengagement Observer Force, who monitor the area of separation up on the windy Golan Heights, the ICRC arranges for both families to meet on the narrow, parched strip of land that lies between the Israeli and Syrian checkpoints for a moment of blessings, tears and joy.

The first ICRC-facilitated wedding for couples from opposite sides of the line of separation took place in 1983. During the 1990s, there were 54 such marriages. Four ICRC-assisted weddings have taken place on the Golan Heights so far this year.

Centre for International Humanitarian Law

The University Centre for International Humanitarian Law (UCIHL) was opened in Geneva earlier this year. The centre will be a leading authority and educational institute for the study of international humanitarian law (IHL). Course work will concentrate on the legal dimension of IHL in the widest sense, taking in relevant aspects of international criminal law, human rights and refugee law.

The centre will run regular research and teaching programmes with a postgraduate diploma course starting at the end of 2002. It will also run ad hoc programmes for particular groups, such as university lecturers and workers from humanitarian organizations.

The ICRC played an important role in setting up the centre and will be closely involved in its management and work. Antoine Bouvier, the ICRC's specialist on links with the academic world, sees the founding of the UCIHL as an important event. "The centre will be one of the leaders in its field and will attract top researchers and students, not least because Geneva is home to the main humanitarian organizations."

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