Law scholars and military brass met on campus to discuss legal and humanitarian concerns in the Asia-Pacific region.
The annual Kingston International Humanitarian Law Conference discussed legal issues in the Asia-Pacific region on Oct. 26 in Robert Sutherland Hall. It was hosted by Queen’s Faculty of Law, the Centre for International Defence Policy (CIDP), the Canadian Forces Military Law Centre, and the Canadian Red Cross.
The conference provided the opportunity for attendees to learn about issues on the opposite side of the world, highlighting Canada’s role in supporting the interests of people living in the Asia-Pacific region.
Director and Legal Advisor at the Canadian Red Cross Sophie Rondeau began the conference with a crash course in international humanitarian law (IHL). As the main body of law governing armed conflicts, IHL balances the reality of military necessity and humanitarian considerations. Forced to be realistic about how states behave, IHL is an inherently pessimistic branch of law, Rondeau explained.
Emma Fingler, a PhD candidate in the department of political science, discussed humanitarian and disaster response in Myanmar. Using the case of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008, Fingler highlighted ethical and political issues in the failure of governments to provide or allow disaster relief to their own citizens.
“As disasters become increasingly common in a warming world, ethical and diplomatic questions are raised regarding the boundaries of sovereignty. Particularly in cases where the government fails to respond effectively to a catastrophic even within its own boundaries,” Fingler said.
Other speakers focused on legal and military disputes in the South China Sea, particularly, those between China and its neighbouring states. Former military officer Phillip Drew told attendees territorial disputes in the South China Sea stem from competing claims of sovereignty. The claims impact states’ rights to natural resources and military presence in the region.
In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague issued its ruling on a claim brought against China by the Philippines. While the court ruled in favour of the Philippines, China refused to recognize its decision.
Drew noted further legal complications arising from the actions of the Chinese Coast Guard in disputed waters. Swarming of Filipino and Vietnamese vessels, dangerous maneuverings, ship ramming, and unsafe aerial interception all led him to question the legal definition of the use of force.
Lieutenant Commander Brent Lemon discussed Canadian military strategy in the region, unpacking Canada’s recently released Indo-Pacific Strategy.
“The strategy states Canada will challenge China when it engages in coercive behaviour whether it’s economic or otherwise, and it ignores human rights obligations, or undermines our national security interests and those interests that are partners in the region,” Lemon said.
The Lieutenant Commander noted Canada’s fulfilled commitment to increase its warships to three in the Indo-Pacific Region. For students in attendance, the conference encouraged them to consider how they can use principles from the IHL to contribute to causes beyond their backyard. Rondeau closed the conference by urging students to get involved.
“Your current involvement, your advocacy that you will do, all of that will serve for application of international law in a way that preserves a more peaceful order that protects humanity and protects the environment on the long term,” Rondeau said.
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