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non-state actorsPrivate mercenaries and decentralized terrorist organizations simply didn't exist in the same kinds of numbers today as they did when the Geneva Convention protocols were established, according to the organizer of a conference examining how international humanitarian laws can be applied to them.

Applying humanitarian law to 'non-state actors' focus of conference

Trying to sort out how international humanitarian laws govern everyone from terrorists to private mercenaries seems far removed from everyday life in Windsor, but it really should concern everyone, according to a law graduate who is organizing a conference on the subject here.

“These international issues matter to everybody, whether they’re in Windsor, or Baghdad or Beirut,” said Craig Brannagan, a lawyer at the Toronto firm of Warren McKay Geurts Bellehumeur, where he specializes in policing issues. “We need to become aware of these issues and to be prepared to address them should they directly arise in our own lives.”

On March 17, the university will host the Canadian Red Cross Society’s second annual International Humanitarian Law Conference: A Panel Discussion on International Humanitarian Law and the Engagement of Non-State Actors.

Brannagan, who graduated in 2010, said a focus of the conference will be on how non-state actors like terrorist organizations and private military contractors affect the prospects of international security and the use of force in international law. He said the protocols established by the Geneva conventions in 1949 and 1977 to govern humanitarian law and rules of armed conflict often don’t apply to reality today.

“They’re simply not consistent with the way the world is now,” he said. “They address things like fighting against colonial domination, or racist regimes, but we never had anything like private military contractors or decentralized terrorist organizations the way we do now, so they just don’t apply to non-state actors outside of these very limited circumstances.

“So in a situation like Afghanistan, where the war is more internationalized, the ‘enemy’ is often not in traditional uniform and does not fall within the specific legal definition of those to whom international humanitarian laws apply. We need to find ways to hold these people to some kind of accountability.”

Brannagan, who is also the chair of the Canadian Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Working Group, said guest speakers on the panel include Andrew Carswell from the International Canadian Red Cross, University of Michigan professor Stephen Ratner and Canadian Forces Lt. Col. Heather Fogo, a fellow UWindsor grad.

“It’s really open to anyone who has an interest in war and peace, and in humanitarianism,” he said.

The conference runs from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the Great Hall at Canterbury College, located at 2500 University Avenue West. Registration starts at 11:30 a.m., and there’s an informal reception to follow the conference. Registration is limited; RSVP to: IHLConference@redcross.ca.

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