Disseminating IHL: The 5th Annual Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition

2018 Clara Barton IHL Competition Participants

2018 Clara Barton IHL Competition Participants

Contributed for Intercross by LTC (Ret) Rich DiMeglio and Major Keith Petty, Clara Barton IHL Competition Committee Members

Armed conflicts have never been more complex.  Recently, the world has witnessed a rise in civilian casualties in urban settings, new technologies testing legal and ethical boundaries, old technologies (chemical weapons) again unleashed with disastrous effect, and multi-party conflicts with no clear political resolutions in sight.  All of this occurs in the context of a “disconnect between public opinion and the policies and actions of States and armed groups” regarding the necessity and applicability of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), as revealed in a recent ICRC study “People on War.”  This demonstrates that now, more than ever, there is a need to disseminate the laws of armed conflict in order to prevent future IHL violations. 

The Clara Barton IHL Competition is one such way to engage the next generation of IHL professionals as they increase their competency in this challenging body of law.  On March 9-11, 2018, over 70 law students, military academy cadets, law professors, and IHL and human rights law experts convened at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC, for the 5th Annual Clara Barton IHL Competition (CBC). The CBC, loosely modeled after the Jean-Pictet IHL Competition, is a simulation-based, experiential legal competition designed to expose rising professionals to the practice of IHL and to real world challenges facing IHL practitioners during armed conflict. The CBC is the only annual legal competition in North America with a concentration on IHL, and this year the CBC was pleased to welcome the first ever team from South America, The University of Buenos Aires.

During the competition, participants engage in a variety of practical role playing exercises, during which they are asked to assume professional roles and accomplish a wide range of tasks reflecting those performed by practitioners in the field.  The CBC is unlike traditional moot court competitions because of its uniquely experiential character.  Participants explore the application of the law through fictional, but realistic case studies of armed conflict which continue to evolve throughout the competition, offering participants a dynamic and creative atmosphere in which to explore complex legal issues.  The competition tests participants’ knowledge of international humanitarian law and public international law, as well as their ability to present, advocate for, and defend legal positions to a diverse range of stakeholders in different simulated environments, while also offering students the chance to network with top authorities in the field.  The competition was supported this year by the generous contributions of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the American Red Cross, and Georgetown University Law Center.

This year, the competition once again required students to assume many different roles throughout the rounds, to include the role of legal advisors providing advice to governmental leaders about the legality of a military raid; the role of ICRC legal advisors briefing defense leaders operating a detention facility on the basic legal requirements for treatment of detainees; the role of legal advisors to military commanders considering a military strike that may result in civilian casualties; and the role of representatives of various humanitarian organizations briefing the deputy of a governmental human rights office on potential war crimes.

The semi-finals pitted American University’s Washington College of Law vs. a team of cadets from the Air Force Academy, and a team from UCLA matched up vs. Santa Clara, in an International Court of Justice proceeding.  In the final round, where the Air Force Academy edged Santa Clara, the finalists and judges engaged in a spirited academic discussion regarding a notional, predictive targeting algorithm.

The Clara Barton Competition is a collegial event, and participants are encouraged to get to know the students on other teams, judges, and committee members throughout the weekend.  By participating in the CBC, participants take a step toward joining the community of professionals tasked with promoting the laws of armed conflict.  This year the participants were treated to a social networking evening at the beautiful American Red Cross Headquarters, where they were able to meet with current international humanitarian law practitioners in the Washington, DC area.

The Clara Barton Competition is open to students currently pursuing Juris Doctor (J.D.), Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) or Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees at law schools, as well as military academy students, from across North, Central, and South America.   Teams are composed of three individuals representing a single institution, and participants are eligible to compete in only one edition of the Clara Barton Competition.

Testimonials from students this year:

"Participating in the Clara Barton was an amazing experience.  They really mean it when they say the take the law out of the books.  I’ve discussed these issues in my classes, but it was a completely different (and incredibly valuable) experience to present, debate, and discuss these issues in real-world settings.  I learned so much – not just from my own preparation, but from the other teams, judges, coaches, and speakers.  If you’re considering participating in the Clara Barton – do it!"

- Carly Nuttall, American University Washington College of Law

"It was an absolute honor to represent my school at the Clara Barton Competition.  I had an incredible experience and learned so much from my peers during the weekend.”

-Ashlynn Kendzior, University of Minnesota School of Law

The 6th Annual Clara Barton Competition will likely be held in Washington, DC, March 8-10, 2019.  Application information will be announced early this fall.  If you or your school are interested in competing in 2019, please send any questions to clarabartonihlcompetition@gmail.com