THE UNITED NATIONS: Robert Mardini, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), highlighted three areas of particular concern with regard to the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Briefing a UN Security Council open debate on the topic, Mardini said the primary concern was the appalling human cost of wars in cities, Xinhua news agency reports. .
“I need hardly remind you of the extensive damage urban warfare causes, primarily to civilians, all the more so when explosive weapons with a wide range of action are used,” he said.
This clearly raises serious questions about how parties to such conflicts interpret and apply the relevant rules of international humanitarian law. In fact, the concept of “military necessity” is most often abused, used as an excuse for the use of force rather than a reason to limit it. Risks often increase when weapons are supplied to belligerents by allies or partners without proper oversight, he said.
The second issue of particular concern is the rapid spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech during armed conflict, Mardini said.
“We are seeing firsthand in our operations how this phenomenon reduces the ability of those affected to make informed decisions that impact their safety and dignity. It dangerously distorts information vital to human needs, such as access to safety, shelter and health. We are also seeing an upsurge in misinformation, both online and offline, which undermines humanitarian efforts to gain the trust and acceptance of those affected. False narratives about the role of humanitarian organizations not only hinder our work, but can create dangers for the people we are trying to protect and assist and for our staff,” he said.
The third concern is the growing pressure on frontline humanitarian organizations to help states obtain information for possible criminal prosecutions in armed conflict, he said.
Better respect for international humanitarian law requires accountability, which, in turn, helps to prevent violations of international humanitarian law. But it is necessary to separate the work of humanitarian organizations from that of investigative bodies. This is essential to preserve neutrality and impartiality and to access populations in need, he said.
The ICRC urges States to take decisive action in the three specific areas concerned: making the protection of civilians a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of all military and security operations in populated areas; avoid and prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation in armed conflict and mitigate its impact on those affected; and to ensure accountability for victims without compromising the neutral and humanitarian space in which humanitarian organizations must operate, he said.
“Action in these three areas would go a long way to ensuring better protection of civilians everywhere in armed conflict.