Since the beginning, humans have resorted to violence as a way to settle disagreements.
Yet through the ages, people from around the world have tried to limit the brutality of war.
It was this humanitarian spirit that led to the First Geneva Convention of 1864,and to the birth of modern International Humanitarian Law.
Setting the basic limits on how wars can be fought, these universal laws of war protect those not fighting, as well as those no longer able to.
To do this, a distinction must always be made between who or what may be attacked, and who or what must be spared and protected.
– CIVILIANS –
Most importantly, civilians can never be targeted. To do so is a war crime.
“When they drove into our village, they shouted that they were going to kill everyone. I was so scared, I ran to hide in the bush.
I heard my mother screaming. I thought I would never see her again.”
Every possible care must be taken to avoid harming civilians or destroying things essential for their survival.
They have a right to receive the help they need.
– DETAINEES –
“The conditions prisoners lived in never used to bother me.
People like him were the reason my brother was dead.
He was the enemy and was nothing to me.
But then I realized that behind bars, he was out of action and no longer a threat to me or my family.”
The laws of war prohibit torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, whatever their past.
They must be given food and water and allowed to communicate with loved ones. This preserves their dignity and keeps them alive.
– SICK & WOUNDED –
Medical workers save lives, sometimes in the most dangerous conditions.
“Several fighters from both sides had been critically wounded in a fierce battle and we were taking them to the closest hospital.
At a checkpoint, a soldier threatened us, demanding that we only treat his men. Time was running out and I was afraid they were all going to die.”
Medical workers must always be allowed to do their job and the Red Cross or Red Crescent must not be attacked.
The sick or wounded have a right to be cared for, regardless of whose side they are on.
– LIMITS TO WARFARE –
Advances in weapons technology has meant that the rules of war have also had to adapt.
Because some weapons and methods of warfare don’t distinguish between fighters and civilians, limits on their use have been agreed.
In the future, wars may be fought with fully autonomous robots.
But will such robots ever have the ability to distinguish between a military target and someone who must never be attacked?
No matter how sophisticated weapons become it is essential that they are in line with the rules of war.
International Humanitarian Law is all about making choices that preserve a minimum of human dignity in times of war, and makes sure that living together again is possible once the last bullet has been shot.