Even wars have limits

Guest post by Byron Vandenberg, Canadian Red Cross 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence, and to provide them with assistance. There are over 14,500 ICRC aid workers assisting the most vulnerable in 80 countries affected by conflict. These aid workers risk their own lives operating in conflict zones such as in Somalia, Yemen and Malaysia while caring for others. So how does the international community ensure their protection?
International Humanitarian Law (IHL), or the Law of Armed Conflict, places limits on war by restricting the use of certain military weapons and tactics. It also establishes rules for combatants while fighting that ensure the protection of innocent civilians and aid workers who are not part of the conflict. By following IHL, armed groups can limit the effects of armed conflicts on populations and allow aid organizations to safely assist.

Both IHL and the Red Cross Movement are neutral.  This means they’re not concerned with why armed conflicts are happening, but rather how they are being fought and the effect of this fighting on civilians. Not taking sides in a conflict allows the Red Cross to work in areas where other aid organizations cannot. For example, Red Cross aid workers are able to access certain detention facilities with the aim of preventing torture and other types of ill treatment of detainees. The Red Cross also ensures that the detainees’ basic needs are met by authorities. In 2015, the International Committee of the Red Cross visited and helped ensure fair treatment of 928,812 detainees, successes made possible by the Movement’s neutral, impartial, independent approach.

The reality of modern armed conflicts makes neutral action more difficult. Facing the unpredictability of field work, some aid organizations have become intertwined with foreign policy and militaries to increase the protection of their staff. While maintaining neutrality in an armed conflict is difficult, the Red Cross Movement’s commitment to this principle allows it to be most effective in helping vulnerable populations in war-torn areas.

 On November 17th, the Canadian Red Cross will bring together aid workers from the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders, local academics and professionals to discuss of the challenges related to the protection of non-combatants in times of armed conflicts and of the future of humanitarian action. This full-day conference is free of charge and will take place in Toronto.

Click here for more information or to register.

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