From L-R: Alexandra Wolhuter; Anna Charles; Brooke Thompson; Catherine Drummond and Lindsay Collins
From L-R: Alexandra Wolhuter; Anna Charles; Brooke Thompson; Catherine Drummond and Lindsay Collins
5 December 2011

The plight of child soldiers and the mistreatment of Australian POW's during WWII are two of the real life situations used to illustrate the principles of international humanitarian law as part of a high school education program developed by students from The University of Queensland's TC Beirne School of Law.

UQ's student-led International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Schools Education Program has been presented to around 80 students from St Hilda's Girl's School, Moreton Bay College and Brisbane State High School since its launch in July this year.

Run in conjunction with Australian Red Cross, the awareness building program is one of only two such programs across Australia and one of the many voluntary activities undertaken by law students through The University of Queensland's Pro Bono Centre.

Katrina Elliot, an International Humanitarian Law Officer with Red Cross in Brisbane, says that the program is helping the organisation to achieve its unique duty under the Geneva Conventions to inform and educate the public about international humanitarian law.

"Collaboration with the UQ Pro Bono Centre has meant that we are able to reach broader audiences," Ms Elliot said.

"This partnership has also given young people and students an opportunity to get involved in this important work. We'd like to thank the Centre for its support and the students for their valuable contribution to encouraging greater public awareness about the laws of armed conflict."

Following six hours of IHL training with Red Cross, the UQ students - Catherine Drummond, Anna Charles, Brooke Thompson, Alexandra Wolhuter and Lindsay Collins - produced their own lesson plans, group activities and IHL handbook, carefully ensuring that relevant case studies and the principles of IHL could be integrated within the school curriculum and would successfully engage high school audiences.

Law and Arts undergraduate, Catherine Drummond, hopes the IHL seminars will inspire young people to take an interest in the law. With increased visibility of international conflicts made possible through the news and media, she believes it is essential to build greater knowledge and understanding of international humanitarian law issues.

"IHL is relevant to everyone so it's really important to support the local community by facilitating an understanding of these issues," Ms Drummond said.

"One of the benefits is to enable students to critique the information they receive through the media to put the issues into context, for example, the circumstances surrounding the recent death of Muammar Gaddafi would be considered a breach of international humanitarian law."

Fellow student and IHL team member Brook Thompson says that the initiative is also helping participants to see global events from a national perspective.

"The program enables students to understand how IHL has an impact at home in Australia and its effect on the way we respond to global events, for example, where there is an obligation for States to take positive action, such as deploying troops overseas," Ms Thompson said.

The IHL schools program is one of two successful outreach initiatives supervised by Dr Peter Billings, Senior Lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, and runs in tandem with the Asylum and Refugee Law Education Project which won UQ's 2011 Vice Chancellor's Award for Equity and Diversity.

"The IHL schools initiative, in partnership with Australian Red Cross who kindly trained our students in the basics of IHL, is an important part of the TC Beirne School of Law's commitment to fostering close ties with local high schools," Dr Billings said.

"It's also an essential part of the UQ Pro Bono Centre's commitment to community education. The students have invested a great deal of their time in preparing and delivering IHL seminars over the past four months and we look forward to introducing students in other local high schools to this important subject in 2012."

Dr Billings said he is delighted by the extremely positive feedback he's received from the schools that participated in the IHL education program this year.

Simon Irvine, a Humanities teacher at Brisbane State High School, described the professionalism of the UQ law students who presented the first IHL seminar to his Year 12 Politics class in July.

"They were well prepared and delivered a well-structured lesson that engaged the students," he said.

"They handled the questions asked of them well, and gave answers to our students that not only demonstrated a good understanding of the subject matter but that also explained it in a manner that our students could grasp."

Media: Dr Peter Billings (07 3365 7176,, or Melissa Reynolds (07 3365 2523,