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About the protection of civilian population

26-06-2002

 The protection of the civilian population in times of conflict is based on an essential principe of international humanitarian law: civilians who are not participating in the hostilities must on no account be the object of attack, and must be spared and protected.  

   

The mandate of the ICRC is to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of civilians who are not participating in hostilities and are affected by situations of violence. This mandate derives from international humanitarian law, which affords the civilian population general protection from the effects of military operations and abuse by the adverse party. In the event of conflict the ICRC makes representations to the relevant authorities, on the one hand to prevent or put an end to violations of humanitarian law, and on the other to protect the life, health and dignity of civilians and to ensure that the consequences of the conflict do not jeopardize their future.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949Additional Protocols of 1977Article 3 , and especially their , contain specific rules for the protection of civilians and civilian property. In situations that do not come under the definition of international armed conflicts, the civilian population is entitled to protection under  common to all four Geneva Conventions. In the event of internal disturbances civilians are protected by the basic principles of international humanitarian law and the inalienable core of human rights law.

The ICRC has a twofold approach in its work to protect the civilian population :

First, by gathering information in the field and informing military and civilian authorities or opposition leaders of unlawful acts committed against the local population, the ICRC tries to bring such practices to a halt and to trigger appropriate remedial action. ICRC delegates take both direct action in the field (relief operation) and draw up confidential reports over a certain period of time. The recommendations they make can range from alleviating the effects on civilians of the way army units conduct hostilities to preventing summary executions of alleged collaborators by rebel forces. These reports highlight rules of conduct which must be observed in order to maintain at least some measure of humanity at the heart of the violence. They include respect for basic rights such as the right to life, safety and human dignity, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the prohibition of acts of terrorism and indiscriminate violence, respect for the wounded and the work of medical personnel, the special protection to be granted to children, the limits to be imposed on means of maintaining order, and so forth.  

Second, in case of emergency and when all other possibilities have been exhausted, the ICRC may take the initiative of evacuating particularly vulnerable individuals from a dangerous area, reuniting separated family members, arranging for the exchange of family messages, and providing medical supplies and food for starving communities.

The ICRC also maintains a regular presence in areas where individuals or entire communities are at risk of being attacked. Its delegates stay in close contact with all potential perpetrators of violence - whether regular army troops, rebel fighting units, or security or police forces. 

See also: Marion Harroff-Tavel, " Action taken by the International Committee of the Red Cross in situations of internal violence " , International Review of the Red Cross, No. 294.