On 14-15 March, 20 Coast Guard and Naval officers from seven countries came together in Kochi, Kerala to discuss international humanitarian law (IHL), with a special focus on laws of war at sea. The participating countries included Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, the Maldives, Nigeria and Srilanka. Cameroon took this opportunity to ensure the participation of a female officer. Referring to the ever evolving dynamics of maritime security, the participants acknowledged the importance of IHL for those manning the seas in different parts of the world.
Means and methods of warfare during World War I and attacks on hospital ships and Red Cross vessels carrying relief supplies during World War II raised questions of whether customary naval law was being respected or not. These conversations culminated in the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea in 1994. It was drawn up by governments and other experts, the ICRC and a number of National Societies to update the interpretation of IHL as applied to war at sea. It recalled that the key principles of the law of war on land are also applicable to war at sea.
With the aim of acquainting officers with IHL applicability in situations they may face while deployed at shore or at seas, ICRC colleagues interacted with the group over two days. The officers discussed case studies and debated the complexities of the application of law and the safety of those at sea. Enthusiastic participation and engaging conversations ensured that the course was well received.