Monday, June 13, 2011

Is your law school violating the Geneva Conventions?

Possibly so. At the very least, your country, however, by failing to promote the education of lawyers in the laws of war, probably is:
The law of war should clearly form an integral part of courses on international law. However, this is rarely the case in law faculties, although international law should be a compulsory subject for all lawyers. Otherwise, how can judges or legal advisers to states deal with disputes in due course if they have no academic knowledge of this vital subject?

Yet, it is actually a breach of international law not to teach and dispense the knowledge of the law of war. There is an obligation under all the 1949 Geneva Conventions to teach the law of war so that the “entire population” is aware of the rules. This duty applies in times of peace as well as war and is not activated, like some other provisions in the Conventions, only at the outbreak of armed conflict. States have blatantly ignored this obligation to promote the knowledge of the rules of the Geneva Conventions, for example, by not ensuring that the law of war is taught in universities and often not even to members of the armed forces.
Thus Ingrid Detter, certainly no touchy-feely advocate. Her citations to the GC texts are at page 1051, note 2.

One European lawyer, at least, says that European law faculties are doing a better job than the U.S. in this respect:
In the European collective memory, war is as much a scourge on civilians as on combatants. For Americans, war happens elsewhere to US combatants, not to US civilians, the last major war fought on US soil having been a century and a half ago. In Europe, human rights and "humanitarian law" (as the laws of armed conflict are known there) are part of a broader school curriculum, as the Geneva Conventions require. In the US, the "laws of war" (as they are known there) are more exclusively the province of the military and you are lucky to find it taught in law school, let alone high school.
Teaching the laws of war in high school -- would that decrease the percentage of Americans polled who think that torture is acceptable? Just imagine the wave of outrage from the GOP if Obama or the Dems seriously advanced that the U.S. should fulfill its treaty obligations.

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