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Opinion

 

Greater respect for international humanitarian law to prevent more suffering

Published on Aug 21, 2014 2:43 PM
 
Afghan patients wait on a benches at the Internatinal Committee of Red Cross ( ICRC) hospital for war victims in Herat province on Aug 17, 2014. One hundred and fifty years ago to the day, the first "Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field" was adopted. -- PHOTO: AFP

One hundred and fifty years ago to the day, the first "Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field" was adopted. It enshrined in international law the idea that even in times of war, a certain degree of humanity must be preserved. Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which together helped to secure acceptance of international humanitarian law at that time, are now calling for stricter observance of the principle.

Today's wars have little in common with the battles of the 19th century. The fighting has gradually moved from clearly defined battlefields to populated areas. Traditional war between armies of opposing states is the exception, while domestic rather than international conflicts have become the norm. Nowadays civilians also bear the brunt of such conflicts.

International humanitarian law has adapted to this change. Appalled by the destruction and suffering caused by the Second World War, states agreed in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 on comprehensive protection for those who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities, such as wounded and sick soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians. This cornerstone of international humanitarian law was supplemented in 1977 and 2005 by three additional protocols. The use of certain weapons, such as biological or chemical weapons, cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines is now widely outlawed. The implementation of these protocols has also been accompanied by a certain amount of progress in the training of soldiers and in the prosecution of the worst war crimes, thanks in particular to the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nevertheless, every day the world recieves horrific reports and pictures that bear witness to unspeakable suffering in armed conflicts. All too often, serious breaches of international humanitarian law are the cause.

 
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