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Reference Center: Historic


The New ICMM Reference Centre for
Education on International Humanitarian Law and Ethics (IHL)




The Evolution of the Course on the Law of Armed Conflict in Spiez Switzerland
The International Committee of Military Medicine decided at its 32nd World Congress in Vienna to mandate the organisation of international courses on the law of armed conflict (LOAC) for military medical officers to Switzerland. This honourable task has been awarded to Switzerland because of its strict neutrality and because it is the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions. Since its implementation 12 years ago the course has been financed by the Swiss government.
According to the statutes of the ICMM the director of this course is the Surgeon General of the Swiss Armed Forces. He works in close collaboration with the Chief of International Relations of Defence.
He and his staff are responsible for the LOAC teaching content and the strict neutrality of teaching.

The excellent collaboration between the two services led to the successful implementation and further development of the course.

After intense discussions over the last years among the teaching staff, the commander and participant senior generals, we concluded that our courses should also engage in the analysis of important questions and dilemmas arising from deployments of medical troops. This led to the realisation that, in addition to the courses, we would need a forum where such questions could be addressed by an international body of specialists.

Switzerland has therefore submitted a first proposal to the 37th ICMM’s General Assembly in Tunis in 2007, followed by a formal proposal to the 38th General Assembly in 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, for an enlargement of its role and support for the LOAC and military medical ethics teaching and analysing activities. These proposals have been thoroughly discussed in roundtable discussions with the heads of delegations and have been approved by the ICMM’s General Assembly.

The new Reference Centre of Humanitarian Law and Ethic
This new ICMM reference centre is organized within the military structure of the Swiss Armed Forces as a “Medical Unit Centre of Education (MU-CE)”. It works under the organic authority of Swiss Armed Forces. It reports to the Surgeon General of the Swiss Armed Forces and for matters of the LOAC to the Chief of International Relations Defence of Switzerland. In the ICMM organisation, the Reference Centre is working under the functional authority of the Scientific Council (Chairman of the Scientific Council and Chairman of the Technical Commission on Education). The Reference Centre consists of a directorate with three subordinated units: one teaching staff, one course of reference LOAC in Spiez with a support staff and one advisory board. The tasks of these four entities have been defined.

The directorate
The director and the deputy director (a Swiss commissioned officer) work in close collaboration with the members of the secretariat consisting of professional ethicist, a responsible for the administration, supported by the director of finances (officer in the Swiss Armed Forces medical services). They are also responsible for the secretariat of the Advisory board.

The international Teaching staff
The existing international teaching staff, with expert teachers already teaching in Spiez, has to be enlarged and organized more formally, to be able to support the Reference LOAC Course in Spiez and the decentralised existing (Republic of South Africa, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and planned new LOAC courses.
Today the senior members of the LOAC teaching staff are lawyers and/or medical doctors from the Republic of South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Canada and France, who are responsible for the expert LOAC teaching. They are inviting new future teachers from ICMM countries to join this staff. Candidates would have to attend the Reference LOAC course in Spiez for training and could then be teachers in the (regional) courses.
In addition to the teachers Swiss reserve officers are being incorporated into this staff to support the international and regional courses.
We plan to be able to have the course of reference in Switzerland and four to six regional courses per year.

The Reference Course LOAC in Spiez, Switzerland
This course is responsible for the teaching of participants from all over the world in English and French. It will serve as the centre of reference for the teaching of all courses and serves for the training of future LOAC teachers (Train the Trainers).
The LOAC teaching will be done by the international teaching staff for the participants and by senior LOAC teachers for the trainers syndicates. Future teachers have been invited by the Swiss Surgeon General to attend our course in Spiez. The attendance of these officers is of utmost importance to guarantee the future teaching in the decentralised courses. The Surgeon Generals of the ICMM member states are invited to make proposition for candidates for this task.

The existing Swiss support staff is being reorganised to even give better support to the course of reference in Spiez and its various obligations.

The Advisory Board
The Advisory Board consists of a Secretariat that is equal to the directorate of the ICMM Reference Centre, editorial members and associate members. The task of this Advisory Board is to analyse legal questions of the Law of Armed Conflict, ethical questions of military ethics, military medical ethics and dilemmas of deployments of medical forces.
The Secretariat is to attend to questions that have been submitted for analyses to the Advisory Board. These questions will then be sent to members of the editorial board and thus to various specialists from the field of ethics, military ethics, medical ethics, law of armed conflict, humanitarian law, religious ethics, but also to officers with field experience, war surgeons and other interested parties.
Suitable persons have already been invited to become members of the editorial board and associate members. We have taken care to invite members of the editorial board coming from all continents, areas and regions, a diversity of various beliefs and ethical backgrounds. They will be invited to state their opinion in submitted questions and contribute written statements or articles.
Associate members are specialists working in a more loose contact within the scope of special questions in their respected field of expertise.
Once questions have been analysed and written comments have been obtained by the secretariat, statements will be prepared by summarising the various points of view and suggesting how dilemmas could be solved. These statements propose at the same time recommendations for the solution of existing problems. These recommendations will be sent to the general assembly of the ICMM for possible approval and distribution to the military health services of the ICMM member states.
Close contact of the Advisory Board with the International Committee of the Red Cross is mandatory to make sound statements when the Geneva Conventions are involved. Collaboration is therefore sought. Specialists from military ethical backgrounds are included in the editorial board.

Two organisms are supporting the activities of the ICMM Reference Center of Education of International Humanitarian Law and Ethics.
- The Swiss Military Academy at ETH Zurich (MILAK) is the training centre for career officers of Swiss army, an internationally recognized authority center for military sciences. Since 1877, ETH Zurich has offered courses and lectures in the military sciences. This traditional link between military academy and university takes advantage of the opportunity to educate military specialists in close contact with the academic world.
- The Zurich University Center for Ethics, Department of Applied Ethics: a contract of collaboration had been signed between the University of Zürich and the Surgeon General of the Swiss Armed Forces. This University Center is an Institute for Social Ethics, an Ethics Research Institute and an Institute of Biomedical Ethics. Its activities comprise academic teaching, research and services to the public.