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Canberra conference highlights laws of war

From the five-year crisis in Syria to sustained violence in Iraq and South Sudan, millions of people around the world urgently need protection.

Monday July 20, 2015

Armed violence in Iraq has created an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Photo: IFRC/Joe Cropp

This week, representatives from 35 Commonwealth nations will discuss international humanitarian law with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.  

The Fourth Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference on International Humanitarian Law, from 20-23 July 2015, will focus on strengthening protection for victims of armed conflict.    

"The laws of war as we know them are being challenged like no other time in history," said Robert Tickner, CEO of Australian Red Cross.

"Daily we are seeing new means and methods of warfare, fighting in urban areas, the fragmentation of armed groups, sexual violence as a weapon of war, and attacks on health care workers.  

"Some may question whether the laws of war are even relevant but without them, what will prevent human suffering on a global scale?"  

Drawing on the shared legal traditions of the Commonwealth, the conference provides a platform to share experiences on domestic implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). This body of law includes the Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocols and other treaties that seek to limit suffering during times of war.  

"For many years we've been increasing knowledge of the laws of war both in Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region, with the Australian Defence Force and Governments," Mr Tickner said.  

With violations of the rules of war continuing to take place globally, a critical issue on the agenda is compliance with IHL.  

"Even in war, there must be limits. Such limits are outlined in international humanitarian law," said Dr Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  

"Given the devastating impact of armed conflicts around the world, this event serves as an important opportunity for States to recall and reinforce the value of the laws of war and principled humanitarian action."  

Leonard Blazeby, head of the ICRC mission in Australia, agrees.  "Insufficient respect for IHL is the principal cause of suffering in today's armed conflicts. The need to respect - and to ensure respect - for IHL is urgent and of paramount importance."  

Co-hosted by Australian Red Cross, the Australian Government, and the ICRC, the conference is supported by British Red Cross and the Commonwealth Secretariat.  

Learn more about the laws of war.