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Youth learn about humanity in Serbia

18 September 2009

Group of children sat on floor talkingBRCWith millions of lives around the world being devastated by ongoing conflicts, the Red Cross believes inspiring the next generation of active humanitarian citizens is a job that should be taken seriously.

This year’s Red Cross youth camp exploring international humanitarian law (IHL) – the rules that apply in wartime to prevent crimes such as recruitment of child soldiers, rape and wilful destruction of civilian life – took place at the end of August in the remote Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja.

Alison MacDougall, a teacher at St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, West Lothian, accompanied three pupils to the IHL youth camp. She said: “We cannot afford to overlook the importance of this subject – one that teaches the true meaning of humanity; that encourages young people to feel empathy for all, without discrimination; that makes them sit up and take action against injustice.”

Crimes of war

Pupils and teachers from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Estonia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Scotland met for four days to share and explore ways of teaching IHL to young people through workshops, debate and drama.

One of the students from St Kentigen's Academy said: “This camp made us think about working or volunteering for the Red Cross in later life. It’s really amazing that other countries have IHL as a subject at school.”

Alison added: “Until IHL becomes a recognised subject in its own right, firmly embedded in every school, in every country, can we honestly say we are doing all we can to address ignorance about social injustice and the crimes of war?”

Geneva Conventions

“Perhaps the difference is that countries which have a strong culture of teaching IHL – such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Croatia – have painfully recent memories of the devastation and atrocities war brings in its path,” Alison continued.

“It has been over 60 years since we lived through a war on our own shores; perhaps we grow complacent. However, in today’s turbulent political climate, can we afford to continue to close our eyes to the suffering around us?

“As a Bosnian colleague pointed out, if people in his country had known that IHL existed during the war, perhaps more people would have acted against injustice – knowing that they had the Geneva Conventions on their side. We tend to get comfortable in our bubble of safety – but we should be very aware that the bubble can burst at any time, and if so, we should certainly want our young people to be educated, motivated and able to make a change.”

Browse our teaching resources on IHL

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