Putting the ‘Human’ in International Humanitarian Law

By Lani Luong-Kha, IHL Youth Advocate

Smoke billows while you watch, shock settling in, as soldiers fall around you. You wonder how this country will rebuild from these horrors. You wonder why this country has to be witness to these horrors at all.

The year is 1859, and you are Henry Dunant in the midst of the Battle of Solferino. Moved by this battle, Dunant later laid the framework for the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

International Humanitarian Law was designed to maintain human dignity in the face of war; it is made up of international treaty law, which includes the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols. In 1949, the Geneva Conventions officially declared protections for four groups: wounded and sick soldiers; wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel; prisoners of war; and civilians. Under the Conventions, targeting these four groups is a war crime. Thankfully, the Geneva Conventions have been ratified by all States and are universally applicable.

IHL is an integral part of the work of the American Red Cross, sadly it is unheard of by most Americans, who do not know there are rules to war.

My first experience with IHL was at the 2017 Leadership Development Camp (LDC) organized by the Red Cross Desert to the Sea Region. We went through simulations of the warfront and discussions about the rules of war. I was so immersed in the experience that I fled one station, crying.

I thought to myself: If that was my reaction from learning about the horrors of war, how did those who lived that reality feel?

That seemed like the end of my involvement with IHL, as I never saw another opportunity to engage with it further.

However, nearly two years later, the LA Region’s IHL Youth Action Campaign began.

The goal of striving to educate local youth about the rules of war through in-person and social media activities, the campaign is led by passionate youth leaders. There are 10 teams in total, and I have the pleasure of being a part of Team West LA-Santa Monica.

As the youth adviser for team and the Vice-President of the American Red Cross at UCLA, I oversee the efforts of the high school IHL advocates, while also spearheading initiatives at UCLA.

My first promotional activity, IHL Fact Fridays, aims at educating peers about IHL through tidbits of information. Students scrolling through social media sites would see infographics that were just enough to pique their interest and entice them to learn more.

Following that are in-person activities. At UCLA, I organized an IHL workshop that took inspiration from the stations I had experienced at LDC 2017. In addition, we organized a mini debate, a ball-toss game and an obstacle course — each with the goal of engaging club members with a fun activity for an otherwise heavy topic.

IHL is not easy to discuss; it is rife with legal complications and ethical considerations. Sadly, it may never end the suffering of war. However, it is necessary that we promote this crucial dialogue, for it critically shapes our futures.

After all, we are the next generation of humanitarians; the Red Cross mission is ours to uphold.

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