It's "IHL Madness" season in the US!

At the 2014 Clara Barton Competition, students met in small groups to talk to an IHL expert, Anne Quintin (seated floor), pretending to be a POW. Photo: American Red Cross

You've heard of March Madness, right? College basketball's annual NCAA tournament? Well, college fans of international humanitarian law (IHL) have their own tournament madness going on this month. ICRC DC's Tracey Begley gives us a preview...

Over the next few weeks, two exciting IHL competitions are taking place in the United States: the 2nd annual Clara Barton Competition in Chicago, Illinois, and the 27th annual Jean Pictet Competition in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Both competitions bring law students together for multi-day simulations, where they have an opportunity to role-play as legal advisors to militaries, members of armed groups, and as ICRC delegates. American and Canadian law students are able to compete in the Clara Barton Competition, which is named after the founder of the American Red Cross, by representing their law schools in teams of three. That tournament kicks off this weekend and runs from March 14 to 17.

The Jean Pictet Competition, named after a famous ICRC lawyer who was integral in the drafting of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, reaches throughout the globe, bringing together dozens of teams from all over the world. This is only the second time in its almost 30-year-old history that the Jean Pictet Competition will be held in the U.S.. It will be hosted by the University of Virginia Law School, which is right next door to the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General School and Learning Center. That tournament kicks off on March 28 and will wrap up on April 4.

Over the course of three days (for the Clara Barton Competition) and five days (for the Jean Pictet Competition), the competitors continually face changing situations of war. They must play different roles throughout the competition as the armed conflict around them evolves. One morning, a team may be tasked with acting as legal advisors to a State military and the same afternoon they may be asked to play the role of an ICRC delegate trying to gain access to a fake detention center. The idea is to expose law students to real-world situations, allow them to meet peers and professionals working in the IHL world, and expand their knowledge of the law of armed conflict.

ICRC DC's Chief Legal Advisor, Chris Harland, will be participating as a judge in both competitions, and a handful of ICRC lawyers from our Washington-based Regional Delegation for the US and Canada, as well as our headquarters in Geneva, and our regional delegation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will also participate in the Jean Pictet Competition. We'll have a review and round-up of that event when it's over.

Watch this excellent video by the American Red Cross about the first-ever Clara Barton Competition, which was held in DC last year. (Did you know that only 20% of youths in the US say they are somewhat or very familiar with the Geneva Conventions? Only 50% of adults responded in-kind, according to the American Red Cross.)


The Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition is a simulation-based, experiential legal competition designed to expose rising professionals to the practice of IHL and to contemporary challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict.

During the Competition, participants engage in a variety of practical role playing exercises which require them to assume various professional roles and accomplish a wide range of tasks reflective of those per¬formed by practitioners in the field. The Clara Barton Competition breaks from the format of typical moot court competitions that pres¬ent static, two-sided debate through the recitation of legal briefs, and instead utilizes a dynamic case study based approach to take the law out of the books and expose students to the real world practice of law.

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