Ugandan Service Members Schooled in Laws of War

More than 180 soldiers in the Ugandan People's Defence Force attended a counterterrorism course in Folkasenyi, Uganda May, 2008, where they learned basic laws of armed conflict.

The Ugandan Counterterrorism Course, Cycle 04-08, taught by Air Force Major David Bosco, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, was part of a 16-week counterterrorism program and was designed to teach military necessity, distinction and proportionality.

"There are two components to the laws of armed conflict," Bosco told his students. "First is that countries have come together to say 'these are the rules we must follow in war' and the second element is basic human rights; 'what can I do to people' and 'how should people be treated.'"

The 'Laws of Armed Conflict' was developed as a means to prevent any unnecessary suffering and destruction and is considered part of international public law that regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. A byproduct is the protection of civilians; the wounded, sick or shipwrecked; and prisoners of war. The laws apply to all international armed conflicts and to the conduct of military operations and their related activities.

The bottom line, as Bosco pointed out, is that LOAC was developed as a means for peace.

"We find that if you follow these rules, you'll have a lasting peace," he explained. "You'll have a quicker peace, and you'll get people to accept the peace better."

Army Sergeant Brandon Bestard, primary instructor for the course's 3rd platoon, said he sees the value in courses such as these. "(The Ugandan People's Defence Force) is a world-recognized, first class military," he said. "This isn't the Army of Idi Amin; they are not on par with the militias they are fighting against. They need to act in accordance with the Geneva Convention. We need to hone that in to them. They are striving for the same goals as our military and looking to hold the same standards."

The antiterrorism course has covered many areas of basic combat skills, but Bosco explained to the soldiers that while a lot of what they have learned thus far has been instinctual, the laws of war are intellectual. "This is the stuff that will come up in real combat situations. You will need to have some background to be able to make informed decisions."

The major said that military necessity requires soldiers to engage only in acts which are necessary to accomplish legitimate military objectives. He explained how to apply military necessity with regard to forces, equipment and facilities and then provided real-world examples for the class.

He explained the distinction between lawful combatant targets and noncombatant targets such as civilians, civilian property, POWs, and wounded personnel who are out of combat. He taught the "balancing test" that all soldiers should use when faced with specific situations.

Lastly, the class material covered proportionality. The students learned that proportionality prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds what is needed to accomplish the military objective

The laws of armed conflict were developed from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The conventions consist of four separate treaties which govern the treatment of wounded and sick forces, POWs, and civilians during war or armed conflict.

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