26th November 2000
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Army launches a major awareness programme on the rules of war

Righting wrongs

By Hiranthi Fernando
The Law of War has been given an important place in the Sri Lankan Army today. 

An attractively printed and illustrated pocket booklet distributed to all security forces personnel, sets Imageout the 'rules for behaviour in combat' in simple terms. "Be a disciplined soldier! Observe the Law of War," the soldiers are told. They are also made aware that violations of the law not only cause unnecessary suffering and destruction but also bring dishonour to the Army, the country and themselves. The booklet includes instructions on the collection and care of the wounded, first aid tips, humane treatment of captured combatants and respect and protection of the civilian population.

This is part of a concerted effort being made in recent years, to create awareness and educate the soldiers on the rules for behaviour in combat. The Directorate of Humanitarian Law was established in 1997, to coordinate these efforts and ensure that the Law of Armed Conflict is observed by the security forces. Earlier this month, a training seminar on 'International Humanitarian Law' for officer instructors of the Army, was jointly organised by the Directorate of HL and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was held from November 15 to 22 at the Army Cantonment in ImagePanagoda. This is the fourth such programme to be held by the Army.

"We were a nation that paid a high regard to human rights," Brig. L. Fernando, Director of Humanitarian Law, said. "Our ancient rulers gave much thought to the suffering of the people during war. In a conventional war, it is easy to abide by the rules. In a guerrilla war however, it is different. The Army is at a disadvantage because the guerrilla fighters are not easily identified. They hide behind hospitals, schools, and places of worship, among civilians and strike." The nature of the long drawn-out current conflict and increased recruitment has resulted in the dropping of standards, due to a lack of time for proper training in humanitarian laws. Certain violations have been perpetrated by Army personnel.

The LTTE took advantage of this situation to gain sympathy and also obtain funds for their war effort. "We know the violations that took place on our side. Our aim is to prevent them happening," the Director said.

Explaining some of the steps taken, Brig. Fernando said it has been made mandatory for every Army officer, making an arrest, to issue a receipt to the next-of-kin. Human Rights cells have been set up in every headquarters to monitor arrests, detentions and violations of the law. Every arrest has to be notified to the unit and in turn to the Brigade, Division, Security Forces Headquarters and finally to Army Headquarters. All details of the person arrested, the reason for arrest, place of detention have to be given. Hotlines for this are maintained at the Security Forces Headquarters. A monthly return has to be sent by the Army Headquarters to the Defence Ministry. When there are inquiries about missing persons from relatives, their whereabouts can be traced without delay. 

Further, arrangements are made for those in custody to communicate with relatives through the ICRC. Registers have to be maintained of persons under detention in camps and rehabilitation centres. Army personnel are also instructed to maintain cordial relationships with the ICRC, the Human Rights Task Force and assist other agencies seeking information on missing persons.

The training of officer instructors on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Human Rights is part of the awareness programme started by the Army, the Director of HL said. Through the instructors, the soldiers on the battlefield and at the training centres will receive the message. A video film was also made as a training aid, showing the proper way to conduct cordon and search operations, for example. "Just as we train them to fight the war, we must instill in them the importance of this aspect so that they become professional soldiers." About 50 instructors attended the human rights lectures while about 30 followed the IHL course. The instructors were from the training schools at Diyatalawa, Maduru Oya, Minneriya, Ampara, Kala wewa as well as from the field in operational areas.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has helped the Army immensely in the awareness programmes, Brig. Fernando said. They have provided the resource personnel and resource material. The pocket booklets distributed to the security forces personnel have been printed by the ICRC. The Human Rights Study Centre of the University of Colombo has also been associated with the current training programme for officer instructors.

"We have conducted sessions for over 25,000 soldiers and over 8000 officers," said Dr. Sunil Fernando, of the Dissemination Department of the ICRC. "We used to conduct courses for the officers and troops but from 1997, we started training instructors so that they in turn could do the training at their centres and at field level for their men. About 100 officer instructors have now been trained. The Division for Armed and Security Forces of the ICRC, New Delhi, supported us by taking a leading role in developing the syllabi."

Dr. Fernando said the Directorate of Training of the Army has given them a programme to conduct lectures at major training centres and a syllabus has been prepared this year. A core group with high-ranking officers from the Army and ICRC meet every three months and make recommendations with regard to the implementation of the Law of Armed Conflict. He said the ICRC has conducted some session on IHL with the LTTE as well. However, these are not as extensive and are conducted for the political leaders.

Lt. Gen. Gurbir Mansingh, retired from the Indian Army, is based in New Delhi as a consultant to the ICRC. "I help the ICRC to run some courses for the Army and paramilitary forces to promote the Law of Conflict and International Humanitarian Laws," said Lt. Gen. Mansingh, who came in as a resource person for this course. "During the first four days we had lectures. On the next two days, the students produced and presented the lectures and were evaluated. Those who passed the evaluation were presented with a certificate and are qualified to be officer trainers in IHL." 

Maj. (retd.) Tim Yates, ICRC Delegate to the Armed and Security Forces, South Asia, has come from New Delhi for the training programme in Sri Lanka. "I give presentations and arrange courses for armed organisations which can be Army or para-military groups and opposition groups, to remind them of their obligations under the Geneva Convention, which forms part of the Law of War," Maj. Yates said. He conducted a course for the Sri Lanka Police two weeks ago and is now working with the Army. "The last few months has been spent in developing a training syllabus for the Army for the year 2001. I am very glad we had about 30 officers from different areas, reflecting a wide range of ability. To some it was quite new but the standard of lectures they produced was good."

Capt. M.M.T. Bandara, a Cadet Instructor at Diyatalawa Military Academy was one of the participants of the course. "In the initial training, we were concentrating on military aspects," he said. "There was limited time for IHL. Before I came for this course, I was not familiar with the subject of Law of War, behaviour in action. Now I will be teaching this subject at the Academy. We have to educate the soldiers to accept it. As officers, we have to be an example and convince our men of the importance of observing these international laws. If we do not conduct the war properly, our name gets tarnished."

Another participant, Capt. Rohan Jayakody, a staff officer at the Infantry Training School at Minneriya said it was necessary as Infantry officers, to know this law. "Those who come to the Infantry Training Institute come for refresher courses, having served in operational areas. We can convey this message to these rankers who have five to ten years experience." 

Lt. Nirmali Kukunagoda, serves in a Women's Corp unit at Dehiattekandiya. "We are working a lot with civilians in road block duties, cordon and search operations," she said. "It is useful for us to know what we should do and what we should not do. We came so that we could improve our knowledge on how to deal with civilians."

Major General Lohan Goonewardene, Director General, General Staff and Quarter Master General of the Sri Lanka Army who heads the Army/ICRC Core Group believes that since the ICRC sessions were first introduced in the Army in 1991, the Army has come a long way. "The effects are felt on the field where there has been a tremendous improvement in the behaviour of the troops. They show more respect for human beings.

This is essential for a national army. People have to be convinced that there are rules and regulations to be followed even in war."


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