The Centre of Military and International Humanitarian Law (CoMIHL) was established on 24th August 2017. It is a collaborative effort between the National Defence University, Malaysia (NDUM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Located within the campus of NDUM, CoMIHL is set up for the promotion and dissemination, greater understanding of, and increased respect for the rule of law in all aspects of Military Law and International Humanitarian Law (IHL)
To promote greater understanding and inculcate greater respect for the rule of law in all aspects of Military and Humanitarian Law within the Asia Pacific region
To be the leading centre in promoting and dissemination of good values and principles of international humanitarian law (IHL)
Malaysia’s Center for Military and International Humanitarian Law: A Platform for the Region’s Militaries
On 9 October, 2018 the Center of Military and International Humanitarian Law, housed within the National Defence University of Malaysia, launched its First Basic International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Course for Military Lawyers. This historic moment is the first in a series of six to eight courses/Round Tables that will be offered to military lawyers from 23 countries in the Asia Pacific region annually.
The Center, commonly referred to by its acronym CoMIHL, is a partnership between the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) Kuala Lumpur office. One of the main goals of this regional platform is to help develop expertise in international humanitarian law (IHL) and build a community amongst the militaries’ legal advisors within Asia Pacific. The partnership was forged by the signing of an MoU on 24 August, 2017- the 40th anniversary of Malaysia’s ratification of the Geneva Conventions.
The dream to create a regional law center first began as a collaboration between two ICRC Armed Forces Delegates- First Admiral (RMN, retired) Azhari Abdul Aziz and Colonel (CF, retired) Kirby Abbott- who were both retired military lawyers and shared a passion to advance IHL education for military lawyers in the region. Both Delegates had first met in Sarajevo in the 1990’s and subsequently, years later, taught an IHL course together for the ICRC when both were in uniform over a six year period. The idea quickly garnered the support within the ICRC from Helen Durham, ICRC Director of International Law and Policy, Boris Michel, ICRC Regional Director and Jeremy England and Isabelle Barras, former ICRC Heads of the Kuala Lumpur Delegation and ICRC Armed Forces Advisor Lieutenant Colonel ( MAF, retired) Satwant Singh.
On the Malaysian side, General Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Panglima Hj Zulkifli Bin Hj Zainal Abidin, former Vice Chancellor of NDUM and former Chief of Defense Force of the Malaysian Armed Forces, Dato’ Dr. Jesbil Singh, Assistant Vice Chancellor, and Deputy Vice Chacellor Dato’ Professor Emeritus Dato’ Dr. Tengku Mohd Bin Tengku Sembok and Colonel (retired) Jamal Rodzi Dahari, Senior lecturer of Law in NDUM were instrumental in leading the creation of the Center.
Lieutenant General Datuk’ Hj Abdul Halim bin Hj Jalal (who began his career as a military lawyer), the former Vice Chancellor of NDUM actively supports the CoMIHL and delivered the first opening address at the First Basic IHL Course. In his Opening Address he noted, “obeying IHL serves a strategic imperative for our respective nations. All of the course participants, as military lawyers, are the lynchpin of your respective armed forces in so far as compliance of IHL is concerned.”
Lieutenant General Datuk’ Hj Abdul Halim bin Hj Jalal is ably assisted by Colonels Jamal Rodzi Dahari (retired), Colonel NoorHishmuddian and Colonel Azlan Iskandar (retired) – Malaysian military lawyers who had teach at NDUM and are members of the CoMIHL-shared the passion and CoMIHL’s vision right from the beginning.
A key group which supported and shared in the development of CoMIHL’s creation and work program have been the military lawyers of the Asia Pacific region. This group has been consulted and has offered guidance and ideas throughout. In August the ICRC’s Kuala Lumpur office hosted the 3rd Annual Senior Military Lawyers Round Table-the top military lawyers and Directors of military legal institutes from 21 countries – and discussed the way forward for the CoMIHL and how the Center can best help train their lawyers on IHL related issues.
Starting from 2019, CoMIHL with support from ICRC had organized five regional Asia Pacific and three national IHL events. Since then, more than 200 participants from the Asia Pacific has walked through the gates of CoMIHL, making Malaysia the hub for International Humanitarian Law training as well as the ICRC contribution as the reference organization for International Humanitarian Law for the Asia Pacific.
The ultimate goal of CoMIHL is to have Asia Pacific military lawyers train other Asia Pacific military lawyers at CoMIHL.
The importance of military lawyers and IHL as it relates to the development of CoMIHL was captured by the ICRC Head of Regional Delegation Kuala Lumpur, Ms. Biljana Milosevic during the closing remarks at the First Basic Course:
“… the mission of the ICRC is to provide assistance to victims of war. One of the most important ways to reduce the adverse impact of military operations upon civilians is for militaries to integrate the IHL into their doctrine, training, planning and execution phases.
IHL Doctrine, Rules of Engagement, Targeting Frameworks, as examples, which comply with IHL do not hinder a military’s ability to engage enemy forces- but they do limit the effects upon civilians.
Consequently, given the ICRC’s mission and our historic role as guardians of the Geneva Conventions and the IHL- we have a shared policy objective with your militaries of promoting IHL -that’s what brings us together this week and that’s why we put such an emphasis on IHL- and indeed the creation of CoMIHL and by identifying military lawyers as our target audience. A well trained military reduces the impact on civilians and humanitarian needs in operational spaces. “
Not only does CoMIHL have a mandate to teach courses for the region’s militaries but it also has a dedicated a military law and IHL related program which it delivers to the Malaysian Armed Forces and NDUM students and academics. CoMIHL has become the “fusion point” for Malaysian Armed Forces and in supporting Defence Operation and training on IHL doctrine, training and education. Recently the Chief of Defence Force proclaimed that all Military justice, operational law and International Humanitarian Law related courses are to conducted by the National Defence University through the center. This includes programs at NDUM (where IHL is a mandatory course), the Defence College, Staff College, Joint Warfare Center, and Malaysian Peace Keeping Center.
Additionally the CoMIHL will run a variety of national courses including: protection of civilian in armed conflict, IHL and Military Law for Battalion Commanders, LOAC for Operational Staff, LOAC: Detainee Operations, Human Rights in Internal Security Operations, LOAC: Protection of Non Combatants in Combat Zones, IHL for Academics and will hold a regional IHL course for academics and government lawyers. Other ongoing foundational projects include advising on the revision to the LOAC Manual and Rules of Engagement and Targeting doctrine and the translation of the Geneva Conventions into Bahasa Malaysia. To date the CoMIHL has quickly attracted significant interest within the Malaysian Armed Forces and amongst the military lawyers in the region. What started out as a dream by retired military lawyers to build something in Kuala Lumpur for the military legal community of Asia is quickly taking root.
by Kirby Abbott, 2017