Civilians Protection in Armed Conflicts

Long time ago the religious and philosophical wills wanted to make wars and conflicts less aggressive and more “humanitarian”.  At the same time, Christian, Islam and Jewish religion imposed humanitarian aids during wars and especially towards civilians, children, women and the elderly. The philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment adopted also the principle of human dignity and thus gradually set limits on the languages ​​used by states even during periods of peace. The first aim was to alleviate the suffering of the victims of armed conflicts, second is to control the violence, and thirdis to mitigate the damages of wars.

Civilians Protection in Armed Conflicts -

  The president of the International Committee of Red Cross said:” the nature of warfare has changed unrecognizably since the adoption of the original Geneva Convention 150 years ago. Most contemporary armed conflicts now take place within states, rather than between states. The means and methods of warfare have become sophisticated to a degree scarcely conceivable by our forebears, the use of unmanned weapons such as drones being a good example”.

Despite all the efforts of the International Humanitarian Law and all the concerned organizations we can still see that civilians are the ones attacked. It is nowadays reasonable to ask and to see where does the International Humanitarian Law stands today with all the changes especially that armed conflicts continue to exact a shocking human cost, with civilian bearing the brunt. Civilians’ protection in this period of time is crucial especially in the agitated areas where chaos largely exist and block all the endeavors of achieving peace and stability. For this reason the “responsibility to protect” is at those stages very important, especially after being adopted by head of state and government in 2005 World Summit, where states have obligations to protect their inhabitants and international community must help them in this. This responsibility should be understood as a rigid promise made by leaders of every country to all men.

The International Humanitarian Law regulates relations between states, international organizations and other subject of international law. It is a branch of public international law that consists of rules that, in time of armed conflict protect persons who are no longer directly participating in the hostilities and to restrict means and methods of warfare. We can also say that International Humanitarian Law consists on international treaty or customary rules that are meant to resolve humanitarian issues coming from armed conflict, whether of an international or a non-international character.

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: “ War is in no way a relationship of man with man but a relationship between Sates, in which individuals are enemies only by accident; not as men, nor even as citizens, but as soldiers”.

From this quote we can highlight the importance to distinguish between the principle of military necessity and the principle of humanity. The military necessity permits only that degree and kind of force required to achieve the legitimate purpose of a conflict, i.e. the complete or partial submission of the enemy at the earliest possible moment with the minimum expenditure of life and resources. The principles of humanity forbid the infliction of all suffering, injury or destruction not necessary for achieving the legitimate purpose of a conflict.

During armed conflict the International Humanitarian law must be applied, with its two different system of protection, and the means used for protections are determined by the classification of the conflict, which can be classified as International and non-International. The international armed conflict can be defined when two or more states resort to the use of armed forces to fight each other’s. A conflict between an international organization and a state is classified under the international armed conflict in addition to wars that are related to liberation, occupation, right of self-determination under racist regimes with certain conditions. The non-international armed conflict can be defined where an armed conflict occurs between armed forces of a state and an organized non-state armed groups, or if we can say non state actors. For hostilities to be considered under a non-international armed conflict they must reach a certain level of intensity. However the classification of non-international armed force has certain categories where the internal disturbances and core tensions are not subject to International Humanitarian Law, yet they are subject of domestic legislations that can be applied and controlled by state authorities.

The international humanitarian law has its protection system that could be classified under the international armed conflict and the non-international armed conflict. In international armed conflict, civilians are subject to protection, they must be protected against dangers that they may arise from hostilities. Civilians are all persons who are not engaged in hostilities and must not be the object of any attacks. Civilians are protected persons if they provide that they are not nationals of the state enemy. The protected persons must be respected and not subject to torture, with a full respect for their lives, dignities and religions. Other than the civilians, the combatants that are no longer participating in hostilities are also entitled to protection. In this case they will be wounded or sick where they can no longer defend themselves. Prisoners of wars are also entitle to a good treatment and respect for their personal rights and other convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and physical torture.

Persons in non-international armed conflicts are not recognized by the international humanitarian law, since there are no combatant status in a non-international armed conflict, plus there are no wars prisoners. In this case members of non-organized state group, or non-state actors are subject to the binding of the domestic law, with a state authority enforcement.

States can only be a part in international treaty, like Geneva Convention and the additional protocols, so in other term is should be ratified. The non-state armed group exist under the rule of International Humanitarian law however fall under the categories of non-international armed conflict, which means that state to which they belong to, signed the treaty. States that are part of Geneva Convention has a responsibility toward respecting and implementing the international humanitarian law. Those implementation will require adoption of legislations or regulations next to educational program for armed forces and citizens. What is really needed here is also related to a strong political will. All states must respect and ensure respect of laws and apply treaties in good faith, plus despite of being inside or outside an armed conflict, any actor must help in emblems protection, cultural property and natural environment preservation.

In other words, only practices can put all these rules into exercise to find out where the shortage lies, considering that the dynamics of new international conflicts, plus the dynamics and the nature of violence in the world are spreading and sometimes related to some interests.

Unfortunately we say that violence has become a weapon used by both the weak and strong, thinking that it is the only way and mean leading to victory.

From that point the responsibility for improving the situation of civilians and protecting them from armed conflict should be strictly common to all States, international and regional organizations.

Avoiding international armed conflicts is difficult to achieve in these circumstances, but international efforts should be made to legislate rules that are compatible with modern international conflicts. It is therefore necessary to conduct an international treaty on international terrorism and its spreading dangers and adjust the methods of combating it; in accordance with the rules of international law and international humanitarian law where coordinating the efforts of the international community must exist with those goals: victory of human rights and dignity respect and fighting against terrorism of all kinds.