Geneva trip – ICRC

ByWeb editor SIB

Geneva trip – ICRC

After the last session with UNCTAD, we went to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Luckily the headquarters of the ICRC was just across the street from Palais des Nations, so within 10 minutes we were able to start with our final visit of the trip.

The ICRC’s main goal is ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and other situations of violence. To do so, it is, among others, promoting respect for international humanitarian law. After a brief introduction and a short tour, we started with a lecture in the basics of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). IHL is the branch of international law specifically intended to preserve humanitarian values during armed conflicts by

  • regulating the conduct of hostilities and limiting the means and methods of warfare to what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the parties to the conflict;
  • providing protection and humane treatment to persons not or no longer participating in hostilities and protect certain objects of special importance.

The main sources of law can be found in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols. IHL does not say when a State can go to war or whether a war is legit: it only deals with the legalities during warfare.

In the Geneva conventions, a clear distinction is made between International Armed Conflicts (IAC) and Non-International Armed Conflicts (NIAC). International armed conflicts are armed conflicts between two or more States, while a NIAC is between a State and an armed group. It not always easy to determine whether a conflict is international or not, because involvement of other States does not automatically change the status of the conflict. This distinction is important due to the applicability of the Geneva Conventions. Only the Additional Protocol II deals with non-international armed conflicts. Although a lot of countries has ratified this protocol, the United States, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq are notable exceptions. Due to the fact non-international armed conflicts can be seen a national matter, and thus intervene with the sovereignty of a State, this protocol is more controversial. However, a lot of the rules laid down in the Conventions are also part of customary lawand therefore also applicable for States who haven’t ratified it.

There are a few basic principles in IHL:

  • Military Necessity: Application of force and other measures to achieve submission of adversary is permissible within the limits posed by IHL.
  • Humanity: Poses limits on means and methods of warfare which cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering; provides for (special regimes of) protection for persons not or no longer participating in hostilities.
  • Distinction: all persons and objects are either subject to attack or are protected from attack). A clear distinction is made between combatants and civilians, who can in principle not be targeted.
  • Proportionality: prohibits attacks on lawful military objectives which are likely to cause excessive loss of civilian life and damage to civilian property in relation to the anticipated military advantage. All feasible precautions must be undertaken throughout an attack to avoid or minimize civilian casualties/damage to civilian objects.

During the lecture a lot of interesting (fictional) examples were used to give us an idea how to apply IHL. Luckily there was a lot of room for questions, which could be answered by the lawyers of the ICRC. Afterwards we took a nice group picture at the entrance of the building.

If you are interested in this field of law you can find more information in this interactive e-learning lectureor visit the website of the ICRC.

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