Noelle Shanahan Cutts, a third-year student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, was one of 40 law students nationally selected to attend the International Humanitarian Law Workshop in Santa Clara, Calif., earlier this spring. The program, presented by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and Santa Clara University School of Law's Center for Global Law and Policy, is designed to teach law students the fundamentals of international humanitarian law while providing them opportunities to apply what they learned in hands-on simulations.
"It was very interesting and pretty intense," Cutts, a native of Claremont, Calif., said. "The topics we were discussing, like law of war and international conflicts, are topics people have very strong feelings and opinions about. After eight hours, it can get very heated."
After learning the basics of international humanitarian law, the students were grouped and worked on hypothetical, yet realistic, situations. Based on intelligence photos and some available "top secret" intelligence information, each group advised its assigned country's government about the legality of military action.
During one exercise, Cutts and other students were placed in the role of Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) working at the Joint Operations Center of a foreign military involved in an international armed conflict. The students were provided with targeting packets with satellite images and basic intelligence (target name, location, probability of collateral damage, etc.) and were to advise their commander whether an attack on a massive ground movement was legal.
Additionally, the group considered what it called the "CNN factor"—how such an attack would be portrayed in the media and viewed by the public—as well as whether it was legally according to International Humanitarian Law.
In the end, Cutts and her group advised against attacking the moving targets based on the ambiguity of the photographs and satellite imagery.
"We were quite relieved," on making the decision to avoid an attack, said Cutts. "It was a hard decision, but the target turned out to be a caravan of school buses."
In another exercise, Cutts was part of the Egyptian delegation in a mock negotiation of a permanent international tribunal to prosecute acts of international terrorism.
Cutts' attendance and participation in the workshop was made possible by the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy at Case Western Reserve.
"This workshop is a very highly selective program and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to help a terrific student attend," said Professor Robert Strassfeld, director of the Institute. "International humanitarian law is an increasingly important aspect of international and foreign relations law, plus Noelle had the opportunity to meet like minded and interested students and teachers and make contacts in that community."
"It was a great opportunity to work with students from other schools and to share different thoughts, ideas and opinions," she said. "Plus, armed conflict law and the law of war are things that people need to know about. Conflicts are going on all the time around the world and they are not always presented by media in the proper context or fully thorough."
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