IHL & Red Cross

What International Humanitarian Law (IHL)?
The International Humanitarian Law, or IHL, is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.  It is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict.  It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.  It is specifically intended to resolve matters of humanitarian concern arising directly from armed conflicts, whether of an international or non-international nature.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional 1st & 2nd Protocols of 1977 and 3rd Protocol of 2007 are the main instruments of IHL.
Protection of IHL
IHL offers protection to the following persons and properties in international and non-international armed conflicts:
  • Civilians
  • Wounded or sick combatants
  • Prisoners of war
  • Medical personnel
  • Humanitarian personnel
  • Journalists
  • Religious personnel
  • Hospitals and ambulances
  • Cultural and religious properties
  • Dams and nuclear plants
Essential rules of IHL
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has summarized the essence of IHL into a set of rules.  These rules do not have the authority of a legal instrument, and in no way seek to replace the treaties in force, but were drafted with a view to facilitating the promotion of IHL.
  1. Persons who do not or can no longer take part in the hostilities are entitled to respect for their life and for their physical and mental integrity.  Such persons must in all circumstances be protected and treated with humanity, without any unfavourable distinction whatever.

  2. It is forbidden to kill or wound an adversary who surrenders or who can no longer take part in the fighting.

  3. The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power.  Medical personnel and medical establishments, transports and equipment must be spared.  The red cross or red crescent on a white background is the sign protecting such persons and objects and must be respected.

  4. Captured combatants and civilians who find themselves under the authority of the adverse party are entitled to respect for their life, their dignity, their personal rights and their political, religious and other convictions.  They must by protected against all acts of violence or reprisal.  They are entitled to exchange news with their families and receive aid. 

  5. Everyone must enjoy basic judicial guarantees and no one may be held responsible for an act he has not committed.  No one may be subjected to physical or mental toture or to cruel or degrading corporal punishment or other treatment.

  6. Neither the parties to the conflict nor members of their armed forces have an unlimited right to choose methods and means of warfare.  It is forbidden t use weapons or methods of warfare that are likely to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

  7. The parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare the civilian population and civilian property.  Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked.  Attacks may be made solely against military objectives.
Implementing IHL
States, who ratified IHL, are primarily responsible for ensuring compliance of IHL.  They should, therefore, spread the knowledge of IHL as far as possible, adopt legislative and statutory provisions of IHL and exercise national jurisdiction over perpetrators.

Both the Protecting Powers, i.e. the neutral states selected by the parties in hostility, and ICRC will monitor the compliance with the provision s of IHL for the duration of the conflicts.
International Criminal Court (ICC) , a permanent institution established outside the UN system by international treaty, will complement national jurisdictions that are unable or unwilling to bring justice to the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Red Cross as Guardian
Under the Geneva Conventions and the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC should act as the promoter and guardian of IHL, and must encourage respect for it.  It does so by spreading knowledge of IHL and by reminding parties to conflicts of their obligations.
Dissemination and Advisory Service
Since ignorance of IHL is an obstacle to its implementation, the ICRC reminds States that they have undertaken to make the humanitarian provisions known.  It also takes its own action to this end.  The ICRC further reminds States that they must take all the necessary steps to ensure that the law is applied effectively and therefore respected.  It does so chiefly through its Advisory Service on IHL, which provides technical guidance to States and helps their authorities adopt national implementing laws and regulations.
Reminding parties in conflict of their obligations
On the strength of the conclusions it draws from its protection and assistance work, the ICRC makes confidential representations to the relevant authorities in the event of violations of IHL.  If the violations are serious and repeated and it can be established with certainty that they have occurred, the ICRC reserves the right to take a public stance; it does so only if it deems such publicity to be in the interest of the people affected or threatened.  This therefore remains an exceptional measure.  


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