Friday chat: Jessica Hazelwood

By Hector Sharp in conversation with Jessica Hazelwood | 05 Sep 14
Right Now’s Hector Sharp speaks with Jessica Hazelwood, an International Humanitarian Law Officer for the Australian Red Cross. She is responsible for dissemination of IHL in Victoria. Previously she has worked with the ICRC in Peshawar (Pakistan) and in Kandahar, (Afghanistan). As an ICRC delegate she worked treating sick, injured and wounded indiscriminately in her role as a Red Cross nurse. Her experiences have motivated her to educate people about International Humanitarian Law.

Right Now: Jessica, you have held a number of positions working in humanitarian and human rights affairs both domestically and internationally, is there a particular role that stands out as being influential to your current approach at the Red Cross?

Jessica Hazelwood: Even though human rights and humanitarian law share similar strains, my focus is predominantly on the humanitarian side and that’s because I think that humanitarian law offers a realistic minimum safeguard balancing the dictates of humanity and military necessity whereas I think human rights law, while being 100 per cent necessary, is often aspirational and more difficult to attain. What I have seen in my career makes me very much committed to humanitarian law in so far as ensuring minimal suffering within conflict which naturally is very different to general human rights law.

You have spent time educating certain audiences in humanitarian law in the field of human rights, what do you find is your biggest challenge in teaching these concepts to an Australian Audience?

Its not in Australia’s backyard, we are so far removed from anything that’s horrific or any proper atrocities. That’s the hardest thing, to try and find an “in” and I think its because Australians are removed from situations which humanitarian law covers. Stakeholders like the Australian Defence Force are much more accessible as an audience and open to talking about it because they have been deployed and exposed to these concepts; its directly applicable to them. But the every-day Australian? It’s hard to get people interested.

Following on form what you were saying about the general public, have recent international events like MH17 and the 157 Asylum seekers given an “in” for the general population to be interested? 

Yea absolutely and it also aids understanding about the ins and outs of the International Committed of the Red Cross. When they are talking about the remains of the victims from the crash, saying that the ICRC would have or could have a role, to be allowed in by the rebels, in order to repatriate the bodies or the fact that the ICRC is involved in checking the Russian aid convoy going into the Ukraine. The amount of conflicts going on in the world right now are making people more receptive to being educated in these issues and this makes my job easier.

You have worked with the ICRC in Kandahar, Afghanistan. If you had to go back into the field tomorrow, what is one thing that you could not do your job without?

The Red Cross, I would not go back in without having the actual emblem of the Red Cross, which is protected under international law.

It means “don’t shoot”.

What is your main role as an International Humanitarian Legal Officer for the Australian Red Cross?

The role is the dissemination of international humanitarian law which because the Geneva Conventions have universal ratification, the Australian Government has incorporated the treaty into domestic law under the Geneva Convention Act part of our role and the role of the state that signs is that they have to disseminate IHL, so that is my job in Victoria.

Just on that point, our theme this month is education and Human rights; one reoccurring topic is human rights education in our high schools. How do you think we should be distributing IHL at a secondary level?

I think people have reading and law fatigue, so give them the UN Charter the Universal Declaration on Human Rights but I think that would be enough because it all stems from there.

Start with the basics, having the knowledge that even wars have laws would be a good start for most kids.

Thanks for joining us Jessica.