ICRC advises UK parliament on future laws guiding military operations
International humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflict, has withstood the test of time as the most effective means of finding the crucial balance between respect for humanity and the reality of military necessity.
This was the argument made by the International Committee of the Red Cross in evidence submitted recently to a UK House of Commons inquiry on the future of the laws regulating UK military operations overseas. But in the ICRC’s view, the law is not static: humanitarian law must continue to evolve as it has done over the course of the last century to meet the challenges posed by 21st century warfare.
Which parts of human rights law or humanitarian law should be applicable during combat operations is hotly debated in capitals, inside universities, and on front lines the world over.
Conspicuous amongst the challenges facing the current laws of war is the development of new technologies for making war, such as the use of cyber capabilities to carry out attacks. Another key concern is the protection of people deprived of their liberty in internal armed conflicts.
As the ‘guardian’ of international humanitarian law, the ICRC is responsible for promoting and developing the law, a role which was formally entrusted to it by the international community in the Geneva Conventions.
Clearly, implementation of these universal laws is imperfect, and the ICRC calls for greater commitment by States to ensure that these rules are respected.
This body of law forms part of the basis for the UK military’s Rules of Engagement, which individual soldiers and their commanders must follow in the course of their duties, and thus can have major practical implications for the conduct of operations.
This is the first time that the ICRC has submitted formal written evidence to a UK parliamentary inquiry, one of a series being carried out by the Defence Select Committee which aims to shape the UK government’s future strategy for the military. Typically, the ICRC does not submit formal evidence to governmental enquiries because of its policy of keeping its dealings with states confidential.
The inquiry takes place in the lead up to the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, a comprehensive rethink of the UK’s defence framework which will set the policy for the country’s armed forces in the coming years.
Legal academics and senior military figures also submitted evidence to the inquiry. In their submissions, they sought to answer the Committee’s questions on issues ranging from the duty of care owed to individual service personnel, to the emergent concepts of universal jurisdiction and ‘lawfare’.
The Defence Select Committee is made up of Members of the UK Parliament drawn from across the political spectrum. Its role is to scrutinize the policy, administration and spending of the Ministry of Defence and other public bodies working in the realm of defence.
A report will be produced from the inquiry and made available to the public later in 2014.
Read the ICRC’s submission to the inquiry: UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework For Future Operations