Modernizing the Way the Rules of War are Taught

August 08, 2019
This is a guest blog from Mariya Nikolova, Legal Training Adviser at International Committee of the Red Cross.

The new “Introduction to International Humanitarian Law” course created by the International Committee of the Red Cross seeks to make the rules of war accessible to a wide practitioner and policy-maker audience, combining blended learning, inductive methodology and an interactive interface.

DisasterReady Learner Review
"Exceptionally good! This course is an eye-opener, informative, instructive, and educative. It made me see conflict in another way. More than being angry with perpetrators, I find that it is more important to see the human suffering resulting from ACs and to empathize with all victims of AC’s irrespective of the relation to the conflicts themselves. This is excellent work and the materials should be made available to all peoples everywhere!"

Patrick P., Logistics Support Coordinator


Humanitarian practitioners and policy-makersoften operate in volatile, complex environments, where important, time-sensitive decisions need to be made.  A sound understanding of the applicable legal framework to any humanitarian context is therefore crucial for those operating in it. It can help reduce legal risk and can contribute to better informed decision-making and coherence of operations. Furthermore, it may also provide a solid foundation for humanitarian engagement/dialogue, and can help build a common frame of reference in complex humanitarian negotiations. Finally, the dissemination of international humanitarian law (IHL) is in fact a legal obligation of States party to the Geneva Conventions vis-à-vis the armed forces but also civil servants and the civilian population at large. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in its role as ‘guardian’ of the Geneva Conventions, contributes to this effort and therefore constantly reflects on the best way to train practitioners and decision-makers to respect the law in their daily work.

While the relevance of IHL training for achieving better humanitarian outcomes is generally acknowledged, tools and methodologies vary widely across institutions. The majority of IHL training offers for practitioners focus on in-presence courses and knowledge retention.2

The ICRC’s longstanding experience with training practitioners specifically suggests that there are particular advantages of going beyond this model, and applying two additional concepts which are not new to trainers - namely blended learning and an inductive methodology. While the blended learning approach allows for mixing online/Internet-based resources with traditional classroom activities (for example, by completing the online training before a presence-based course, such as the ICRC course on IHL for humanitarian practitioners3), the inductive approach allows learners to first explore a concrete situation, in order to then draw broader conclusions about the elements of response the law brings to it.

For several years now, the ICRC has been working on updating its online training offer to be able to better feature these two approaches in its new “Introduction to IHL” online course. On the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (“GCs”), the ICRC has partnered with and other providers to make this course available, in order to showcase the accessibility and continued relevance of those foundational IHL treaties to contemporary armed conflicts.

The “Introduction to IHL” course is specifically designed to provide an interactive learning experience. At the outset, a quick quiz helps each learner build an individual learning path. Through regular “Knowledge Check” quizzes, progress in the understanding and application of the law can be measured. Finally, the “Resources” and “Glossary” sections provide additional content and references for those who’d like to delve deeper into a certain topic.

Alongside design, the contents of the course have also been fully revisited, integrating the most up-to-date content in the modules on the protection of the medical mission, the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems, and the regulation of certain weapons.

Sign up for your free account to start this course in English now. To ensure that it is widely accessible across different geographical regions, the ICRC and DisasterReady will work on making this e-learning available in French, Arabic, and Spanish in 2020.


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1By ‘practitioners and policy-makers’ we refer to professionals of various careers and academic profiles, whose common denominator is to hold field-based or operational responsibilities, often in armed conflict situations, and who engage directly with persons who are also of concern to the ICRC. They may work for a range of stakeholders as diverse as NGOs, national societies or international organizations, with decision-making duties ranging from protection and monitoring to distribution of relief and humanitarian assistance.
2Some exceptions include the recent MOOC “Violence Against Healthcare” (University of Geneva), as well as the “International Humanitarian Law in Theory and Practice” MOOC developed by Leiden University (Kalshoven-Gieskes Forum). 3


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