Wednesday, 31 July 2013

International Humanitarian Law

What is it?

     International Humanitarian Law - IHL, also applied as the ‘law of war’ or ‘law of armed conflict’, is a combination of conventions that restrain the adverse aftereffects of armed conflict. It provides protection to those people who dissociate from enmities, including the ailing, injured, hostages and civilians. Moreover, it standardizes the channels and schemes of struggle.
     The decree consists of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. It is an integral ingredient of the international law – which is an array of rules that administrate relations among states. The International Law composes of agreements – conventions and treaties – among states.
 IHL associates with armed conflicts. It does not restrict a country from making exercise of force. The aspect of using force is regulated by the charter of United Nations. (Cross)


     IHL was initiated across the globe in the 19th Century – when states obliged to rules of conduct in warfare. The Geneva Convention of 1864 established the foundations for IHL. The rules of the convention generated a sense of balance between philanthropic apprehensions and military requirements of the state. Owing to an increase in populations around the globe, countries have made significant contributions to the improvement of those rules. (Law?, 2004)
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are the following:
1)   Convention 1: This convention was established as an Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. It looks after the victims of armed conflict.
2)   Convention 2: This convention was set up as Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea.
3)   Convention 3: This convention was set up as Treatment of Prisoners of War. It resorts to looking after prisoners of war.
4)   Convention 4: This convention was named Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and it sought to safeguard civilians during war. 
The rules of IHL were further amended by the Additional Protocols of 1977, which protect victims of armed conflict and are as follows:
1)   Protocol 1:This seeks to protect victims of international armed disputes.
2)   Protocol 2: This aims to protect victims of non-international armed conflicts.
3)   Protocol 3: Adopted in 2005, this is Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem.
Other than the aforementioned treaties, the IHL is also based upon the following agreements.
·         Convention for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its 2 protocols – 1954.
·         Biological Weapons Convention – 1972.
·         Conventional Weapons and its 5 protocols – 1980.
·         Chemical Weapons Convention – 1993.
·         Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines - 1997.
·         Optional Protocol to Convention on Rights of the Child and involvement of children in armed conflict – 2000.
(Cross, General problems in implementing the Fourth Geneva Convention)

     IHL is relevant to armed conflict. It disregards internal criminal and violent activities. It is applicable only when a conflict has commenced. Moreover, it differentiates between international and non-international armed conflict. International armed conflicts involve 2 states that have to comply with the rules embarked upon in the 4 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol 1. On the other hand, non-international armed conflicts are confined to the borders of one nation. They could consist of armed forces or groups fighting each other. The rules that apply to internal forces are ordained in Article 3 of 4 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol 2.
(Cross, GENEVA CONVENTIONS, 2010) (International Committee of the Red Cross, 1977)


     It encompasses 2 areas. Firstly, it protects those who are detached from conflicts. Secondly, it regulates the means and methods of warfare – including certain weapons and military strategies.

Protection according to IHL

     IHL has laid down certain conditions on terms of protection for civilians. These are as follows:
·         IHL protects those who do not participate in hostile activities. These include civilians, medical practitioners and military personnel.
·         It offers protection for those who have stopped getting involved in conflicts, such as: the injured, captives, sick, stranded and combatants.
·         People who fall into the above-mentioned categories are “entitled to respect for their lives and for their physical and mental integrity.” – ICRC. They are to be sheltered and provided with humane treatment regardless of circumstances.
·         IHL prohibits injuring or murdering an adversary who cannot fight or surrender; the sick and wounded are to be cared for by their ruling authority. Protection and security must be provided to hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel.
·         A regulation was laid down on the condition for detention of war hostages and treatment of civilians under the control of enemies. The terms of these conditions included food, shelter, healthcare and permission for communication with families.
·         There are particular symbols that can be used to identify protected people, such as: Red Cross, Red Crescent and others that symbolize properties and civil defense facilities.
(Cross, International Humanitarian Law - Treaties & Documents)

Prohibitions on weapons and strategies

     IHL restricts all means and methods of warfare that are: firstly, unable to distinguish between those participating in combats and those who do not, such as civilians. The purpose of this is to safeguard citizens and their properties. Secondly, it prohibits tactics that result in injuries or torment. Thirdly, it restricts those tactics which are detrimental to the environment in the long-term.

Defiance and compliance
     Through the course of history, many forces have operated against the IHL and a large number of civilians have become victims of war. On the contrary, IHL has also brought about a positive impact in safeguarding captives, civilians, sick and wounded. It has also succeeded in limiting the usage of atrocious weapons. (Cross, RESOURCE CENTRE, 1998)


     IHL should be given the respect that it deserves because it, undeniably, serves and promotes humanity. Nations are responsible for raising awareness concerning IHL’s rules to armed forces and general public. If any individual is found to be violating the IHL, he should be punished. Laws should be enacted to punish those who violate the law – anyone defying the law is committing a war crime. States must pass laws in order to preserve the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
     Measures have been undertaken on a global level to punish violators of IHL. For instance, tribunals were generated to punish conflicts that took place in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Furthermore, Rome Salute set up and international court in 1998 to curb ‘inter alia’ war crimes.


     In conclusion, every individual has a duty to perform in order to contribute positively to the IHL. That is how a positive change can be brought about in societies and the world can become a harmonious and peaceful place to live in.

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