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Inside Geneva Podcast: is international law dead?  

Picture of a woman holding a child in Gaza with rubble in the background
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Geneva is the home of international law, the rules that are supposed to stop the worst violations in war. But does anyone respect it anymore? 

Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law at the Geneva Graduate Institute, says: “It’s quite blatant that when we like what the International Criminal Court is doing we will support it, but as soon as it steps out of line we will call it a ridiculous institution. So, it is a bit of a crossroads for international law.”

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The Geneva Conventions are 75 years old – are young people even aware of them? 

“We have the law, and at least my generation or younger generations tolerate much less those types of violations, and we are reporting more,” says Cristina Figueira Shah, a student at the Geneva Graduate Institute.

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Are there any rules of war that work? 

Laurent Gisel, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), explains that “far fewer people know about the prohibition of blinding laser weapons than the mine ban treaty. Why? Because it has been prohibited before they were developed. And it was prohibited 50 years ago.”

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Does indicting a political leader achieve more than headlines? 

“Naming somebody as a potential war criminal has a huge effect because if the leader is named as a war criminal, like Russian President Vladimir Putin or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that means that assisting them to do what they are doing means that you are aiding and assisting, potentially, in a war crime,” says Clapham. 

How can we encourage more respect? 

“I think we should go back and understand all the reasons why we got to this point in the first place. How we wrote all the international treaties and understand from that what our generation can do to improve it,” says Shah.

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“Violation of international humanitarian law creates even more hatred. And if you want to live in peace afterwards, it helps to respect international humanitarian law during the conflict,” says Gisel.

Join Imogen Foulkes for an Inside Geneva special from Geneva’s Graduate Institute where experts and audience ask: “Is international law dead”? 

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For more audio content from SWI swissinfo.ch, explore The Swiss Connection, a podcast with Swiss stories for the world.

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