Exploration 3C: Who is Responsible?


In Exploration 3A, students identified violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and considered why combatants violate the law and how one violation may lead to another. Exploration 3B focused on dilemmas, which included the difficulty in distinguishing between civilians and combatants – and between civilian objects and military objectives – on the battlefield.

In Exploration 3C, students explore the responsibilities of various people for making sure that IHL is respected.

This course is one 45-minute session.


  • To understand who is responsible for making sure that the rules of IHL are respected
  • To identify how this responsibility is fulfilled

Key Ideas

  • For IHL to be respected, many people have different responsibilities to fulfil; although a single person can violate IHL, it takes the combined efforts of government officials, commanding officers and individual soldiers to ensure that IHL is respected.


In the Methodology Guide, review teaching methods 1 (Discussion), 2 (Brainstorming), 7 (Writing and reflecting) and 9 (Small groups).



Are Rules Enough | 5 minutes

What would help combatants follow the rules?

[For example: knowledge of the rules, training in the rules, commanders who do not give unlawful orders and who set a good example, logistical support for respecting the rules, knowledge that violations are prohibited and will be punished.]

Then, for each idea in the list, ask them to say who they think is responsible for providing it.


Responsiblity for Respecting the Rules | 30 minutes

Divide the class into three groups, and have students read and discuss “Who is responsible for respecting IHL?“.

To help them, assign each group one of the following tasks:

  • List the responsibilities of commanding officers
  • List the responsibilities of soldiers
  • List the responsibilities of governments
  • Tell students to use the questions under each commanding officer’s statement to stimulate their discussions.

    Reconvene the class to report on the groups’ findings.

    Review the ideas they had before reading “Who is responsible for respecting IHL?”. Ask what they think now.

    You might draw upon the following summary of some key points made by these three commanding officers.

    Commanding officer 1:

    Failure to uphold the basic principles of IHL would hurt our cause and have serious consequences.

    Key concepts - means and ends, credibility of a cause, self-interest, public opinion, image

    Commanding officer 2:

    We have to take into account all the humanitarian issues when we draw up our operational orders during a war.

    Key concepts - military planning, prisoners, medical care for enemy wounded, compliance with the rules

    Commanding officer 3:

    Commanders are responsible for seeing that the rules are obeyed, and that requires training and firm discipline.

    Key concepts - implementation, responsibility, training, discipline

    Ask students to share their views on the various discussion points brought up in the commanding officers’ statements.

    Possible questions:

  • Can you think of ways in which these commanding officers’ ideas might be applied to people’s behaviour in civilian life?
  • Can you think of examples of good and bad leadership?
  • What if a soldier is given an order that violates IHL?
  • The last one is a complex question that will be taken up in later activities. Nevertheless, make sure students know that such orders are unlawful and that soldiers have an obligation not to follow any order that violates IHL.


    Close | 10 minutes

    Have students reflect on the following statements from commanders to generate a discussion:

    Combat is a last resort. Without humanitarian law, there is no light in the tunnel.

    Possible questions:

  • What does he mean by “no light in the tunnel”? Why does it matter?
  • If you allow your enemy to lose with dignity, they do not feel that they have to fight to the last man. That is what the rules are about.

    Possible question:

    How does allowing your enemy to lose with dignity contribute to the restoration of peace? Does this idea apply to quarrels or conflicts in everyday life? If so, how? If not, why not?