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International Humanitarian Law Clinic Exchange Conference 2016

The Kalshoven-Gieskes Forum on International Humanitarian Law and the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies hosted the second annual “International Humanitarian Law Clinic Exchange Conference”, from 8 to 14 December 2016, in The Hague. The idea to organize the conference stems from a collaboration program between the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Clinics of Leiden Law School (Netherlands), Emory Law School (USA) and Radzyner Law School (Israel), as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As The Hague serves as the home of international courts and tribunals, the conference focused on "The Hague: Centre of International Justice and Enforcement of IHL".

Two years ago, Leiden Associate Professor Dr. Robert Heinsch, Prof. Laurie Blank and Adv. Yael Vias Gvirsman, the three directors of the cooperating IHL Clinics, had envisioned the creation of a network of future international lawyers in the humanitarian field, and thereby seeking to disseminate, implement and enforce IHL. After hosting the IHL Clinic Exchange Conference 2016, and thereby bringing together almost 50 international law students and academic staff with a passion for IHL from three continents to learn and talk about IHL, it can be said that this goal has come a lot closer.  

In The Hague, the students had the chance to attend lectures from scholars and practitioners in the field of IHL and international criminal law, visit the most important institutions to enforce IHL and perhaps most importantly, engage in discussions with each other and exchange perspectives. During the seven days of the IHL conference, the students got an insight into the role of the State, international organizations, international tribunals and courts, and the ICRC with regard to the enforcement and implementation of IHL. Furthermore, the perspective of NGOs as well as the individual in IHL were highlighted. In addition to the lectures at Leiden University, Campus The Hague, several excursions were included, such as visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands Red Cross, the Royal Military Academy in Breda, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

The students received speeches from Judges who have been in the field of IHL and criminal law for decades, such as Judge Christopher Greenwood (ICJ), Judge Theodor Meron (ICTY/MICT) and Judge Bertram Schmitt (ICC). But, also representatives from non-governmental organisations in the field of international peace or human rights were able to present their viewpoints on protecting humanitarian values, including Mr. Wolfgang Kaleck (ECCHR), Leiden Professor Helen Duffy (Human Rights in Practice) and Ms. Jessica Dorsey, LL.M. (PAX). It was very inspiring to see the potentials as well as challenges of The Hague as a ‘Centre of International Justice and Enforcement of IHL’. This was amongst others illustrated by Mr. Grant Dawson (OPCW), who showed how the mandate of the OPCW aims to control the methods of warfare on a global scale.

One of the highlights of the IHL Conference was the panel discussion on international criminal justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Prosecution and Defense analyzed the protection of victims of armed conflict, as well as the legal safeguards for the defendant. Another peak of the conference was the lecture from Leiden Professor John Dugard (ad-hoc Judge at ICJ) on the role of the ICJ in the development of IHL, discussing the various ICJ decisions from several viewpoints, and engaging in a discussion on controversial issues of the jurisprudence. Overall, it can be said that it was a unique and memorable experience. The future international lawyers will not easily forget the words of Mr. Benjamin Ferencz (US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg) who encouraged them to ‘Never give up!’ in the fight to ‘Make Law not War!’.

Read more about the IHL Clinic Exchange Conference