Rule 143. States must encourage the teaching of international humanitarian law to the civilian population.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law. The practice collected does not indicate that any distinction is made between teaching international humanitarian law applicable in international armed conflicts and that applicable in non-international armed conflicts.
The 1906 and 1929 Geneva Conventions required States to take the steps necessary to make the conventions known to the population at large.
The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property require States to include the study of international humanitarian law in their programmes of civilian training “if possible”.
The qualifier “if possible” was not included to make civilian instruction optional but was added to take into account the possibility in federal countries that the central government has no authority in educational matters.
Additional Protocol I requires States to disseminate international humanitarian law as widely as possible and, in particular, to “encourage the study thereof by the civilian population”.
States’ obligation to encourage the study of international humanitarian law by the civilian population or to disseminate international humanitarian law as widely as possible so that it becomes known to the civilian population is stated in many military manuals.
In addition, the legislation of several States provides that the civilian population must receive instruction in international humanitarian law or includes provisions that directly aim to fulfil this requirement by introducing such training programmes.
In practice, many States facilitate courses in international humanitarian law, often through the provision of funds to organizations such as the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. According to the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, National Societies “disseminate and assist their governments in disseminating international humanitarian law; they take initiatives in this respect”.
In addition, more than 60 States have created national committees on international humanitarian law whose tasks usually include dissemination and promotion.
An increasing number of institutions of higher education have started to offer courses in international humanitarian law in recent years.
In addition, the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Council of Europe and the Organization of African Unity, have called on or invited States to disseminate international humanitarian law or to promote the teaching thereof to the civilian population.
The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has adopted several resolutions by consensus requiring States to encourage the teaching of international humanitarian law to the civilian population.
Similarly, the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims in 1993 urged all States to “disseminate international humanitarian law in a systematic way by teaching its rules to the general population”.
No official contrary practice was found. At the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999, a large number of States from different parts of the world pledged to review the curricula of educational and training establishments with a view to integrating international humanitarian law into their courses or to intensifying dissemination to the population in general.
Additional Protocol I further introduced the obligation of civilian authorities who, in time of armed conflict, assume responsibilities in respect of the application of international humanitarian law, to be fully acquainted therewith.
While States are required to encourage the teaching of international humanitarian law to the entire civilian population, many governments emphasize training for civil servants, in particular law enforcement personnel (judiciary, police, prison personnel).
Several resolutions of the UN Security Council and UN Commission on Human Rights support this requirement.
It was also recalled in resolutions of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Other States emphasize the importance of teaching international humanitarian law to youth, including in secondary education.
Resolutions adopted by the International Conference of the Red Cross and the Diplomatic Conference leading to the adoption of the Additional Protocols have similarly emphasized this aspect of dissemination.
Article 19 of Additional Protocol II states that the Protocol “shall be disseminated as widely as possible”,
and this provision binds armed opposition groups.
This rule is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
In a resolution on respect for human rights in armed conflicts adopted in 1972, the UN General Assembly called upon all parties to armed conflicts “to provide instruction concerning [the international humanitarian rules which are applicable] to the civilian population”.
Although practice with respect to the obligation of armed opposition groups to encourage the teaching of international humanitarian law to the civilian population under their control is limited, it is important that “information concerning [rules of international humanitarian law] be given to civilians everywhere, with a view to securing their strict observance”.
In practice, armed opposition groups have frequently allowed the ICRC to disseminate international humanitarian law to civilians living in areas they controlled.