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Reclaiming the protection of civilians under International Humanitarian Law

After war: who is left holding the baby?

After war: who is left holding the baby?

On 23rd and 24th of May the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a conference on the protection of civilians under International Humanitarian Law. The Oslo-based conference and was attended by over 90 countries and many international and civil society organisations.

It aimed to gather experts to discuss how to ensure that civilians affected by armed conflicts are given the protection they are entitled to under International Humanitarian Law. The co-chair summary at the end of the conference included a set of recommendations towards this end.

Action on Armed Violence attended the conference to promote the issues of casualty recording and explosive weapons as key elements that need to be considered by countries when talking about protection of civilians. Both topics emerged consistently throughout discussions and specific recommendations where included in the final summary.

Explosive weapons: Following a panel discussion on this topic, Action on Armed Violence and Human Rights Watch organised a side event to talk about the horrific impact of explosive weapons on civilians. AOAV presented the outcomes of its latest report monitoring the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas whilst Human Rights Watch presented the main findings of its latest report on Syria “Death from the Skies”.

At the conference the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which AOAV is a founding member, issued a briefing paper to states urging them to acknowledge the unacceptable high levels of harm that the use of explosive weapons causes in populated areas and to commit to work to address this problem.

Casualty recording: As stressed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway in his opening speech “Another key factor in improving the protection of civilians is ensuring that military operations and their effects on civilians are documented properly.” Many echoed this call during the conference, underlining that casualty recording is essential in order to identify specific patterns of harm, enhance compliance with the law, inform effective missions to protect civilians, influence military practices in conflict, ensure accountability of perpetrators and support the fulfilment of victims rights.

Action on Armed Violence, Article 36 and Oxford Research Group shared with participants a briefing paper calling on states to recognise the current lack of casualty recording practices and to commit to discussions to improve these practices in situations of armed conflict.

Whilst accountability was discussed at length during the meeting, it mostly referred to the importance of ensuring that perpetrators pay for the violations of International Humanitarian Law that they committed.

AOAV would have wished to see a stronger accent on ensuring that the rights of victims are fulfilled, not only by ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice but more broadly that victims of conflict are supported in enjoying their rights to physical, psychological, economical and social reintegration.