Committee: Humanitarian Forum.
Issue: Ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.
Chair or president: Ngarambe Jo Blisse.
International humanitarian law has a brief but eventful history. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that nations agreed on international rules to avoid needless suffering, known as Laws of war, which they bound themselves to observe in a Convention. One of the most prominent reasons why the United Nations was created was to ensure collective security among all countries, in case there was to be any conflict involving the necessity of taking measures to look after civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross defines International humanitarian law as “a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It is used to protect people who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.” During warfare between countries or internally, numerous people may be trapped and some of their fundamental rights might be violated in the midst of the conflict, that is why countries decided to unify and draw out the laws in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
The law was created to ensure a degree of humanity in the midst of war. It was agreed upon by various countries, however the issue is rather centered or whether or not they will abide to them. However, countries neglect the laws through emergency powers and by declaring themselves us solvent states. This following report will exemplify this connection and underline the necessity to ensure that the humanitarian laws are followed.
Defining key terms
International humanitarian law: International humanitarian laws are laws which are meant to limit the effects of armed conflict, for humanitarian purposes. It protects people who are not or are no longer involved in the hostilities; for example the wounded, shipwrecked, prisoners of war and civilians; and limits the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.
“Protection”: International humanitarian law protects those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious military personnel. It also protects those who have ceased to take part, such as wounded, shipwrecked and sick combatants, and prisoners of war. The physical and mental integrity of those people should be respected at all costs. They also benefit from legal guarantees. They must be protected and treated humanely, with no adverse distinction. It is prohibited to kill or wound an enemy who surrenders or is unable to fight; the sick and wounded must be collected and cared for by the party in whose power they find themselves. Medical personnel, supplies, hospitals and ambulances must all be protected.
International armed conflict: An international armed conflict involves an armed conflict between at least two States.
A non-international armed conflict: A non-international armed conflict means fighting on the territory of a State between the regular armed forces and identifiable armed groups, or between armed groups fighting one another. To be considered a non-international armed conflict, fighting must reach a certain level of intensity and extend over a certain period of time.
Internal disturbances: Internal disturbances are characterized by a serious disruption of internal order resulting from acts of violence which nevertheless are not representative of an armed conflict (riots, struggles between factions or against the authorities, for example).
Human Rights: Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are considered to be entitled, often held to include the rights to life, liberty, equality, and a fair trial, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of thought and expression. (Oxford Dictionary)
There are few conflicts today where civilians are not effectively being held hostage by the warring parties. International humanitarian law is less and less respected, there are fewer defenders of the law, and indiscriminate attacks frequently occur. While the protection of civilians provided by the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols is extensive, States and non-State armed groups are far too often unwilling to act on this responsibility.
As a result civilians continue to suffer excessively in almost every armed conflict. There is also a growing tendency to close the door to humanitarians, preventing them from helping the victims. In 2014, 190 major attacks against aid operations occurred, affecting 329 aid workers in 27 countries. This represents a decrease of roughly 30 per cent from 2013's year’s all-time high but must be seen in the context of growing no-go areas limiting humanitarian aid delivery. (aidworkersecurity.org, as of 6 August 2015).
Today, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and more recently Central African Republic are among the countries where humanitarian workers are most at risk. Buildings belonging to relief organizations have been attacked, vehicles and convoys hijacked, and personnel murdered or kidnapped. Violence against these workers affects civilians and prevents millions of people from receiving lifesaving assistance.
Countries and organizations involved
In 1994, one of the deadliest genocides occurred in Rwanda, whereby almost one million Tutsi civilians were killed. This had carefully been planned previous years ahead by the Hutu ruling power MRND. The death of the Rwanda president Habyarimana triggered the killings from the 7th of April until the 4th of July. Throughout the three months, the Rwandan Patriotic Front made up mostly of Tutsi expatriates led a war against the Hutu army and the midst of it countless civilians perished. When the RPF got a hold of the country, some of the genocide leaders and perpetrators fled to various countries in order to escape law. The country that was mostly accused was France, whereby they were blamed of using the ‘Operation Turquoise’ as a way of escaping for the losing party. A person accused of having committed a crime cannot claim ignorance to avoid responsibility. Unfortunately, the existence of the law is not in itself a guarantee that it will be respected.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) serves as a potential venue for the adjudication of alleged IHL violations. However, the crimes enumerated in the Rome Statute make it highly unlikely that PSO or enforcement operations could fall under the Court’s jurisdiction. Crimes against humanity require widespread attacks directed against the civilian population as an element of the crime. Genocide requires that the intent to destroy “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Such definitions are beyond the scope of crimes alleged to have been committed by the UN to date, and it seems unlikely that a UN force could engage in such widespread violation of the law. While these tribunals are now in the course of winding down, they have made a lasting contribution to international criminal justice and, more broadly, they have sent a clear message that serious violations of IHL will not and must not go unpunished.
Chapter 7 was used for the Rwandan genocide. It states: “Reaffirms that ending impunity is essential if a society in conflict or recovering from conflict is to come to terms with past abuses committed against civilians affected by armed conflict and to prevent future such abuses, draws attention to the full range of justice and reconciliation mechanisms to be considered, including national, international and “mixed” criminal courts and tribunals and truth and reconciliation commissions, and notes that such mechanisms can promote not 3 S/RES/1674 (2006) only individual responsibility for serious crimes, but also peace, truth, reconciliation and the rights of the victims;”. This made it possible to convict genocide perpetrators that had fled.
After having a disastrous election period, the country got involved in conflicts that engaged the government and the population. Nkurunziza’s government is blamed for not respecting the rights of the Burundian citizens; many have fled due to the fear of being persecuted. This has raised great international awareness, whereby journalists are even being persecuted for reporting what is going on in the country. Adopting resolution 2303 (2016) by 11 votes in favor to none against with 4 abstentions (Angola, China, Egypt, Venezuela), the Council authorized a ceiling of 228 United Nations individual police officers for the component, to be deployed in Bujumbura and throughout Burundi. The Burundian citizens greatly fear for the security and this has hindered the operation of many businesses, hospitals and daily activities. With the arrival of the UN police officers, they will feel more at ease.
The Council strongly urged the Government and all parties to cease and reject violence, and condemned any public statement inciting hatred. It demanded that all sides refrain from any action that would threaten peace and stability or undermine the inter-Burundian dialogue. However, this isn’t being fulfilled at the fullest by the government that upholds power.
By other terms, the Council urged the Government to respect and guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, in line with their international obligations. While welcoming steps were taken to withdraw media bans, cancel arrest warrants and release detainees, it urged the Government to fulfill its remaining commitments. On the other hand, the Burundian refugees testify that those rights are not being fulfilled and that any opposition against the government can lead to severe consequences. There should be more effective ways to ensure the application of the agreements made or it might lead to an increasing number of Burundians fleeing or being killed in Burundi due to Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime.
European Commission – Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO)
The European Commission aims to save and preserve life, prevent and ease human suffering and safeguard the integrity and dignity of populations affected by natural disasters but in this case we would focus on man-made crises, such as wars. EU assistance is preserved in the Treaty of Lisbon and supported by EU citizens as an expression of European solidarity with any person or people in need.
International Committee of the Red Cross (Red Cross)
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that acts as a neutral entity in assisting and protecting victims of war, by providing medical care to victims and trying to allow connecting with family members through letters. As members of the civilian population, displaced people benefit from ICRC protection and assistance activities including the protection of civilians; visits to detainees; medical assistance; food aid; and restoration of family links between people separated by war.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
Due to the instabilities caused by the war some people may become displaced and recognized as refugees. The UNHCR may seek to provide their basic needs. UNHCR is currently affiliated with almost every refugee camp in existence, assisting in everything from relocation to funding for facility improvements in refugee camps.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
Médecins Sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders is an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO) known for its medical relief projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases.
Timeline of events
Description of events
Four Geneva Conventions:
1. Amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field
2. Amelioration of the condition of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea
3. Treatment of prisoners of war IV Protection of civilian persons in time of war (new)
The Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict
Convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxic weapons and on their destruction
Two Protocols additional to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, which strengthen the protection of victims of international (Protocol I) and non-international (Protocol II) armed conflicts
Convention on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of certain conventional weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects (CCW), which includes:
• the Protocol (I) on non-detectable fragments
• the Protocol (II) on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of mines, booby traps and other devices
• the Protocol (III) on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons
Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction
Protocol relating to blinding laser weapons (Protocol IV [new] to the 1980 Convention)
Revised Protocol on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of mines, booby traps and other devices (Protocol II [revised] to the 1980 Convention)
Convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Protocol to the 1954 Convention on cultural property
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
Amendment to Article I of the CCW
- Measures must be taken to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. States have an obligation to teach its rules to their armed forces and the general public. They must prevent violations or punish them if these nevertheless occur.
- In particular, they must enact laws to punish the most serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, which are regarded as war crimes. The States must also pass laws protecting the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems.
- Measures have also been taken at an international level: tribunals have been created to punish acts committed in two recent conflicts (the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda). An international criminal court, with the responsibility of repressing inter alia war crimes, was created by the 1998 Rome Statute.
- Whether as individuals or through governments and various organizations, we can all make an important contribution to compliance with international humanitarian law.
- The Security Council tried to help by dispatching commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions. Such bodies were established in the past years in relation to the armed conflicts in Lebanon, Libya, Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Sudan and Syria
- The Secretariat of the United Nations has also taken action to ensure respect for IHL by others. In particular, the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy on UN Support to Non-UN Security Forces is perhaps a clear example in this regard. This policy applies across the board where the UN is considering or is actually providing some form of support to non-UN security forces. The policy essentially consists of three elements:
§ Where the UN has substantial grounds for believing that non-UN security forces may commit grave violations of IHL, human rights law or refugee law, then the UN is obliged to refrain from supporting them.
§ If the UN goes ahead and provides support to such forces and then receives information that gives it reasonable grounds to suspect that those forces are committing grave violations of IHL, human rights law or refugee law, the UN must immediately intercede with the command elements of those forces, with a view to putting an end to those violations.
§ If such violation nevertheless continues, then the UN will be obliged to suspend or withdraw support from the forces concerned. This policy is to ensure that support by UN entities is consistent with the purposes and principles of the UN as stipulated in the Charter, particularly with the purpose of promoting and encouraging respectfor human rights, including IHL and international refugee law. The Policy was made available to the public as a UN document in March this year (A/67/775-S/2013/110).
- Chapter 5. Reaffirms also its condemnation in the strongest terms of all acts of violence or abuses committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict in violation of applicable international obligations with respect in particular to (i) torture and other prohibited treatment, (ii) gender-based and sexual violence, (iii) violence against children, (iv) the recruitment and use of child soldiers, (v) trafficking in humans, (vi) forced displacement, and (vii) the intentional denial of humanitarian assistance, and demands that all parties put an end to such practices; (2006)
- Chapter 6. Demands that all parties concerned comply strictly with the obligations applicable to them under international law, in particular those contained in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as with the decisions of the Security Council; (2006)
- Professional humanitarian workers are in danger if they are associated, in the minds of warring factions, with the military, or political, religious or ideological authorities. It is therefore essential that all involved respect the distinct and separate roles of the humanitarian agencies and workers, comply with international rules, abide by the principles of international humanitarian law and defend humanitarian action.
- States should avoid integrating humanitarian activities into their political and military campaigns. This is best left to the professionals. Authorities must stop blocking humanitarian aid and provide access to victims when the needs are real and lives are in danger. If neutral and independent agencies are denied access to victims and intimidation is widespread, civilians are doubly at risk of suffering.
- Building an environment favorable to respect for the law.
- Protection of civilians in combat zones, referenced to resolution 1674.
- States should comply with their relevant obligations to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law, while recognizing States in or recovering from armed conflicts,they should also consider the need to restore or build independent national judicial systems. Referenced to Chapter 8 in 1674.
- Strongly condemns all attacks deliberately targeting the United Nations and associated personnel involved in humanitarian missions, as well as other humanitarian personnel, also referenced to resolution 1674.
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