The Role of Humanitarian Professionals in Promoting Respect for IHL

Release Date: 
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
San José del Guaviare, check point near Chuapal. A soldier of the colombian army is reading an ICRC leaflet. Image (C) ICRC

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Amidst recurring violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), strengthening compliance with these international norms is indispensable to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. While improvements in accountability have been brought over recent decades to the international judiciary response, particularly with the establishment of the International Criminal Court and Special Tribunals, these mechanisms also face inherent limitations. Moreover, in situations of armed conflict, where the host state may be weakened or unwilling to ensure humanitarian protection and promoting respect for IHL, there is substantial potential for humanitarian professionals to strengthen compliance on the frontlines. Furthermore, despite the responsibility of States to respect and ensure implementation of the law of war, both violations and legal responsibilities are increasingly attributed to members of non-state armed groups as major actors in contemporary armed conflicts.

In conversations with key experts and practitioners, this podcast will examine opportunities for field professionals to play a proactive role in assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of affected populations, interpreting and disseminating IHL obligations, and, ultimately, identifying the appropriate methods of monitoring and reporting violations of IHL committed by state and non-state actors in their operations.

Key questions include:

  • How can frontline humanitarian professionals contribute through their daily interactions with belligerents and affected communities to improving respect for IHL?

  • How does the increasing convergence of IHL and international human rights law (IHRL) impact legal standards around access, the responsibility of international organizations, and rights of beneficiary populations?

  • What new tools, methods or mechanisms are needed to assist humanitarian professionals in ensuring compliance with IHL in the field?

Featuring Expert Commentary From:

Dr. Annyssa Bellal
Legal Adviser, Geneva Call; Strategic Adviser on IHL, Geneva Academy of IHL and Human Rights
Twitter: @genevacall
Manuel Bessler
Head of Swiss Humanitarian Aid
Twitter:  @SwissHumAidUnit
Thomas Dallal
Deputy Director, IHL Resource Centre, Diakonia Middle East Regional Office
Fausto Aarya De Santis
Protection Expert
Currently working as a Coordinator with Oxfam GB in Yemen
Twitter: @oxfamgb
Dr. Knut Dörmann
Chief Legal Officer, Head of the Legal Division, International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Twitter: @ICRC
Dr. Andrew Ladley
Senior Advisor
Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Twitter: @hdcentre
Susannah Sirkin
Director of International 
Policy and Partnerships
Physicians for Human Rights



Biquet Jean-Marc's picture

Hello, I have 3 comments/questions:
1. The presentation of the session mentions the undisputable improvement for protection that represents the creation of ICC and other ad hoc tribunals. But this represents for humanitarian professionals an added risk and complexity to their work: The fact that they can be perceived as auxiliaries of judicial bodies. The case of expulsion of INGOs from Darfur accused of being the sources of information leading to President Bashir by ICC is an clear illustration of the consequence, numerous attemt by ICC investigators to collect information from aid actors in coordination meetings (Uganda, DRC)are demonstrating the difficulty to keep distance between two necessary goals (Justice and aid. Apart of ICRC, there is no protective mechanisms for aid actors not to appear in court as witness, although this may seriously jeopardize the possibility of access for aid actors. Is there any recent evolution in this domain?
2. There is a clear collision of priorities in conflict settings between the assistance role of aid actors implying an access to people in need and their protection role that may push them to denounce a constant pattern of rights violations. What is the present understanding of the limits of protection role of aid actors? What could be the criteria to guide the difficult decisions when facing a dilemma?
3. Is there some evolution in the definition of the protection role of aid professionals? Which responsibilities apart of doing their best, are cnsidered as theirs, knowing that they are not euipped and mandated for the majority of them to promote and eventually act in protection matters? Only ICRC and UNHCR have received mandates of promoting the respect of bodies of laws allowing them to have means and expertise that no other actor has to do it. Apart of the intention to do good, how could and why should we empower/responsibilize aid actors whose primary responsibility is to deliver assistance in a responsible manner, of a domain requesting another set of expertize and means risking to jeopardize what others cannot or are not willing to do: direct assistance?
Thank you for your answers and ideas

Susan's picture

Your summary here says the launch is 18 December. Maybe correct that?

Julia Brooks's picture

Thanks, Susan. You are correct - the podcast launch event will be 25 May at 10am (EDT).

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