ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric: “War without limits equals suffering without end”

Dear President, honourable members of the Assembly,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this important international body. May I start by expressing the gratitude of the International Committee of the Red Cross for the productive and long-standing relationship between our two organisations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

International humanitarian law is a critical tool and the necessary legal framework to protect human life and dignity when armed conflicts arise.

2024 marks the 75th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. These Conventions are the bedrock of modern IHL, or as it is sometimes referred to, the law of armed conflict. These universally accepted rules seek to provide a guiding framework to limit the conduct of hostilities, in order to protect those who are not, or are no longer, participating in hostilities. The premise of these Conventions is simple, more than four hundred articles all come down to one fundamental agreement: Even in armed conflict, at the worst of times, the core of our common humanity must be preserved. This agreement must be reflected in every interpretation of the Conventions.

When we see whole cities reduced to rubble; entire medical systems collapsing; children dying from starvation while humanitarian aid is blocked at checkpoints or borders; or families crippled by the uncertainty of not knowing the fate of their missing loved ones, instead of lamenting, let us remember what the root cause is. The root cause is the flagrant disregard for preserving the spirit within the law of armed conflict, which is to minimise civilian harm.

This is a problem that we all have a stake in overcoming.

Tides turn. While today IHL may be applicable to a distant population, tomorrow you may look to it. Yet again and again we see the world stand by and allow the dehumanization of entire populations. Worse, sometimes affirming that, while the suffering is deplorable, there are no violations. If we continue to leave the disregard of IHL unaddressed, trust me when I say, this law, that has until now survived the test of time and saved countless lives, will not continue to protect in the future. If we kill this universally accepted body of law by looking the other way, there is nothing that can replace it. As representatives of your populations, it is your duty to stand for IHL, to stand for all victims of conflict and to ensure that the law can continue to protect in the future. I urge you to call out abuses of the law where you see it. If it feels wrong, then it is wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The four Geneva Conventions significantly increased the body of treaty law protecting victims of armed conflict. This was possible four years after facing the worst situation imaginable during the Second World War, and just as the Cold War began. It is a compelling example of what can be achieved by States coming together, driven by the common purpose to preserve a minimum of humanity even in times of armed conflict.

At the time of an anniversary, we must celebrate the successes of IHL, and its track record of saving thousands of lives. Yet, we all know that although the 1949 Geneva Conventions have been universally joined, they are far from being universally respected. Right now, men, women, children are suffering, are dying from egregious violations of IHL. In each of your regions, there is armed conflict which to those under the bombs may seem unregulated.

Over the past years, voices of resignation have therefore been increasing. Voices that doubt that IHL actually works. Voices that doubt that the Conventions are still adapted to the way modern conflicts are fought, or to the types of parties to conflicts we see nowadays.

However, the Geneva Conventions, and IHL more widely, have shown that they are as relevant today as they were 75 years ago – and that they are up to the challenges of today’s armed conflicts, when applied in good faith.

I look to you, political leaders, to ensure that the spirit of these fundamental texts is preserved. Because war without limits equals suffering without end. I ask each of you, in your own State to push to make the preservation of IHL a political priority. Victims of armed conflict, past, present, and future are looking to what you, and the world, choose to do next.

Your position, your influence, and the role that you play as parliamentarians, put you in a unique position, not only to make a genuine difference for the many people who are currently suffering the consequences of ongoing armed conflicts, but also to prevent such suffering from happening in the future. Doing this will be a fitting tribute to all that the Geneva Conventions stand for.

The ICRC will continue to support and to assist you in your endeavours.

Thank you.

Source : Icrc