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B.C. Ombudsman Explores Role of International Humanitarian Law at Glendon’s Castel Lecture


An invitation for a "short journey" to explore the history and development of international humanitarian law was irresistible for an auditorium full of York University students and professors. The third annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture on International Law featured the Ombudsman of British Columbia and former Chief Military Judge Kim Carter as its guest speaker, on the evening of November 15th in Glendon’s Senate Chamber. A graduate of Glendon (B.A. 1976), Carter was welcomed with enthusiasm and invited to discuss the evolution of humanitarian law and its challenges, as they continue to exist today. In her 20 years of experience in this field, and through detailed descriptions of her eye-witness accounts, Carter was able to engage her audience in a presentation full of vital lessons to consider for all those interested in this complex and rapidly growing area of international affairs.

Left to right: Kim Carter, Jean-Gabriel Castel and Michael Barutciski at the Castel Lecture

Her long involvement with international humanitarian law provided the basis of her knowledge and experience, but Carter's unshakable belief in the field's importance was largely formed by her experience in the Balkans. “Bringing Slobodan Milosevic to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a major milestone in international law”, she stated. Carter provided a bird’s eye view of this field’s history, explaining that humanitarian law was rooted in religious scriptures and predated international human rights law. Over the years, the nomenclature has evolved from Law of War, to Law of Armed Conflict, to the current title of International Humanitarian Law. With dramatic changes over the past twenty years in what constitutes warfare, the field of international law now includes the prohibition of land mines - a type of weapon which does not discriminate between civil and military personnel.

“Humanitarian missions are filled with difficult questions”, explained Carter. “If you are ordered to deliver food and medical supplies to a specific town and you are stopped 50 km away by a militia roadblock, do you ‘kill some to feed some’? If you’re stopped, not by militia, but by other starving citizens, do you give them the food and arrive to your destination empty handed?”

It is clear that there are no magic solutions and no decision is ever perfect. Yet the need to confront these issues is of paramount importance and the War Crime Tribunal was originally established in response to this need. One of the most significant recent changes in international law is the personal liability of government leaders for atrocities under their jurisdiction. Carter underlined the need for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be involved, when states fail to hold their citizens accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. She expressed her belief that a war-torn country cannot be healed until justice has been served; she also pointed to the ICC's crucial deterrent role - now that individuals can be held accountable for their actions - functioning in a pre-emptive rather than a reactive mode.

Carter emphasized the importance of the lessons learned from the Balkan experience and their impact on current directions in international law. "Without justice there is no history, there are only current events”, she stated with passion. “Without justice and closure for the victims of crimes, we cannot hope to go on to peace.”

Citing other examples of atrocities and war crimes in places such as Somalia and Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, Carter predicted that lack of effective international action in these problem areas would inevitably lead to even greater threats to international security. She further stated that these are not yet times for optimism, as major humanitarian crises continue to loom over the international community.

Students in the audience and professor Castel, who also attended the lecture, put forth questions on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the current situation in Darfur. In response, Carter suggested that the UN should reconsider its approach to humanitarian crises and the use of force provisions included in the UN Charter because, in her view, UN missions have not been given the proper powers to be effective in military terms. She referred to Romeo Dallaire's book on Rwanda, Shake Hands with the Devil, as a shattering description of this situation. “While having a judicial enforcement mechanism for trying war criminals can be effective in deterring violations of the laws of war, stronger military responses by the UN need to be authorized to ensure that major humanitarian crises like Darfur, Kosovo and Rwanda will never again occur”, added Carter.

“It was a great honour to welcome Kim Carter back to her alma mater”, said Glendon international studies professor Michael Barutciski, who organized and hosted this lecture. Carter studied history as an undergraduate, which gave her a ‘long view’ - where she learned that things are constantly changing and nothing lasts forever. She cited as an example that her first undergraduate international law class consisted of five students, but in just a few years, when she went to do graduate work, the class had grown to fifty. And one of her first professors in international law was Jean-Gabriel Castel, in whose honour this lecture series was established.

Said Barutciski, “having served as Chief Military Judge for the Canadian Armed Forces, Director of International Law at the Office of the Judge Advocate General, and currently serving as Ombudsman for British Columbia, Kim Carter is an outstanding example of what Glendon promotes through its unique bilingual liberal arts program: graduates who go on to make a difference in public affairs, both domestically and internationally.”

More about the annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture Series in International Law

Jean-Gabriel Castel Q.C. is a distinguished senior scholar and research professor emeritus at York's Osgoode Hall Law School, as well as a lecturer of international law at Glendon. He is an author, international arbitrator, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Castel was the recipient of the David W. Mundell Medal for Excellence in Legal Writing in 2004. One of the first foreign Fulbright scholars, he studied at Harvard Law School, where he obtained a Doctorate in Law.

In his 52 years of teaching, 46 of which took place at Osgoode Hall Law School and, in part, at York's Glendon College, Castel has authored dozens of books and treatises in English and French, and over a hundred scholarly articles. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Review for 27 years. In addition to his membership in the Royal Society, Castel is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur.

Located at the Glendon campus of York University, the Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture offers an opportunity to examine major legal issues of general concern. It was established in 2005 to honour this great legal mind, with Castel himself as the first lecturer on February 9th of the same year, on the topic of “The Legality of Unilateral Armed Intervention”. The second lecture in this series was delivered on February 6, 2006 by George W. Alexandrowicz, professor of law at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law, with the title "Developments in Global Governance".

This article was submitted to Y File by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny, based on contributions by professor Michael Barutciski and students in his third-year international studies class, as well as Glendon development co-ordinator Meagan Ross.

Published on November 27, 2006