The ICRC and International Humanitarian Law
Either as individuals, kinsmen or tribes, humans have always interacted with each other. These interactions in the early days were mainly for trade, but also for deadly wars, especially in the pursuit of power and dominance. Whether in modern times, or those of ancient history, no matter how deadly, these wars have always been guided by some sort of rules. Of course, the laws that guided these historical wars were not codified into a single document. It was not until the battle of Solferino in 1859 that International Humanitarian Law was birthed (Alexander, 2015). Henry Dunant is regarded as the father of International Humanitarian Law. The sufferings of wounded soldiers he witnessed at the battle of Solferino moved him to form The International Committee of the Red Cross- ICRC (Alexander, 2015).
Today, the ICRC independently and neutrally leads the world in ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict (ICRC, 2021). While most authors simply define humanitarian law as the law guiding the conduct of warfare, the ICRC defines it broadly as a “body of international law that protects persons who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, the sick and wounded, prisoners and civilians, and to define the rights and obligations of the parties to a conflict in the conduct of hostilities”.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols are what guides the activities of the ICRC (ICRC, 2021).The First Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war, but also for medical and religious personnel, medical units and medical transports. The Convention also recognizes the distinctive emblems. The Second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war. It as well provides protection for hospital ships and religious personnel. The Third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war. The Convention establishes the principle that, “prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities”. While in captivity, prisoners of war are to be fed properly and treated with dignity and respect. The Fourth Geneva Convention protects civilians, including those in occupied territory. It offers full protection for civiliansthus, people who are not fighting or are no longer interested in the war, and civilian objects including water and food sources or storage facilities, places of worship, hospitals, etc. (ICRC, The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, 2014).
The humanitarian work the ICRC does during international armed conflicts and its advocacy for states to strictly adhere to the provisions of the Geneva convention cannot be commended enough. The holocaust of World War II killed nearly 1.3 million Jews in Europe, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 killed nearly 230,000 Japanese most of whom were civilians. These Humanitarian crisis were possible because this law of warfare had not been signed or ratified.
In my opinion the Holocaust and the detonation of the nuclear bombs in Japan emphasized the necessity but also the urgency of International Humanitarian Law. The ICRC should be well equipped and well-resourced to ensure they are not only always ready to step into hostilities to provide humanitarian services to wounded belligerents and ensure civilians and civilian objects are safely protected, but also to advocate strongly for states to adhere religiously to the provisions of the 1949 Geneva conventions and its additional protocols.
- Alexander, A. (2015). A Short History of International Humanitarian Law. The European Journal of International Law Vol. 26 no. 1.
- (2021). Mandate and mission of the ICRC. Retrieved from ICRC: https://www.icrc.org/en/who-we-are/mandate
- (2012). THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS OF 12 AUGUST 1949. GEVEVA: ICRC.
- (2014). The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols. Retrieved from ICRC: https://www.icrc.org/en/document/geneva-conventions-1949-additional-protocols