International humanitarian law (IHL) is a universal code established to protect victims of armed conflicts. At first, the rules were not written, they were a matter of tradition, but over time they were enshrined in international treaties becoming laws of compulsory compliance. Nowadays, the main rules of international humanitarian law are contained in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977.
The laws set out in this treaty encompass two fields. On the one hand they protect people outside of the combat (civilians, the wounded and sick and people who are detained). On the other hand they restrict and forbid the usage of some weapons in warfare. The aim of IHL is to narrow the scope of hostilities without taking into account the moral status of the parties. The article is a complaint against the lack of importance given to these rules and its continuous violations which aren´t condemned.
After the Second World War most countries committed to obey IHL when they signed the Geneva Convention, but if we analyse some of the latest international news we can see that these rules are constantly violated. There is no guarantee that they will be enforced and the consequences of infringing the laws have not yet been resolved. Here are just a few examples of the ceaseless violations of IHL, which have occurred this year and have not yet been punished.
The rules of customary IHL say that victims of armed conflicts must be given medical care and that deliberate attacks against medical facilities, staff or transports are a violation of IHL (rule110). However, it is not difficult to find evidence of violations to this law. Last July, Al-Shifa medical compound and refugee camp in Palestine were struck by a missile and rockets, several civilians were injured and killed, and the hospital came under fire several times.
Without a doubt this a serious violation of IHL as the line had not been drawn between legitimate military objectives, which are the only legal targets to attack, and civilian ones. Another rule (rule 90) says that torture and inhuman treatment is prohibited, but since the breakout of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, armed groups from both sides have been accused of carrying out tortures, arbitrary detentions and abductions.
Although this issue has been addressed several times in the UN General Assembly, accountability processes have not started up yet. Rule 104 makes reference to the principle of distinction in saying that the religious practices of civilians and people who do not take part in the hostilities must be respected. Every person shall be treated regardless of his or her religion, sex, race, wealth, etc.
However, in many parts of the world this law have not been respected. Some countries such as Iraq and Syria are involved in religious and racial conflicts in which human rights principles have been constantly violated. In some regions of Iraq, such as Baghdad, religious centres have been destroyed, and in Syria people are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
After all these examples it is clear that the international community is not taking IHL seriously. On the one hand governments are not making any effort to preserve a certain degree of humanity in times of war, and on the other hand institutions have not yet settled clear accountability measures to punish such violations. Although the main international law-enforcing bodies of the United Nations as well as peacekeeping forces have voiced their concern over IHL violations, there is no evidence that makes us think that international law infractions will cease, as there are no serious accountability measures.
This issue is of extreme importance as it concerns the lives of millions of people who are suffering from hostilities, which have nothing to do with them. It is important to instruct soldiers and spread the principles of IHL in order to provide protection to the victims of armed conflicts and to make sure that the violations are being detected and tried in court. Otherwise, these rules would be worthless and dignity of life wouldn´t be protected.
• IHL Rules
• Syria violations of humanitarian law (video)
• BAYLIS, John; SMITH, Steve, OWENS, Patricia: The Globalization of World Politics: “An Introduction to International Relations”. Editorial Oxford, 2010.
• ICRC statement to the United Nations
• Inside a Gaza hospital during Israeli ground offensive. BBC News (video)
María Godino Cornejo
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