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Contemporary challenges for IHL

Contemporary challenges for international humanitarian law IHL

In contemporary armed conflicts civilians are the primary victims of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) committed by both State and non-State parties.  The nature of contemporary armed conflicts continues to provide challenges for the application and respect of IHL in a number of areas, ranging from the classification of armed conflicts to the use of new technologies. There is a need to understand and respond to these challenges to ensure that IHL continues to perform its protective function in situations of armed conflict.  

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  • Terrorism / International humanitarian law Terrorism

    During war, IHL forbids most acts considered as "terrorist" if committed in peacetime. The law applies to regular armies and non-state groups. “Terrorist” acts in other situations may be subject to other bodies of law.

  • Direct participation in hostilities / International humanitarian law Direct participation in hostilities

    IHL distinguishes between soldiers and civilians. But in current conflicts hostilities often take place close to civilians, who increasingly take on certain military roles. This makes it harder to ensure distinction.

  • New technologies and international humanitarian law

    Technological developments have given rise to new methods and means of warfare, such as cyber attacks, armed drones and robots, raising novel humanitarian and legal challenges. When developing any new weapon, it is important that a State assess whether it complies with international humanitarian law.

  • Security detention / International humanitarian law Security detention

    Detaining people for State security reasons is an exceptional measure that is increasingly used both in armed conflict and in other situations. There are grounds for concern over the protection of these people’s rights.

  • Respect for IHL / International humanitarian law Respect for IHL

    All States and other parties to an armed conflict have an obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) in all circumstances. They must use their influence to prevent and end violations of IHL, and refrain from encouraging violations by other parties.

  • Multinational forces / International humanitarian law Multinational forces

    The multifaceted nature of the multinational forces operations, the emerging concept of integrated missions and the ever more difficult and violent environments in which these forces operate have highlighted how important it is to identify the legal framework applicable to these situations.

  • Occupation / International humanitarian law Occupation

    The occupation of territory by a hostile army is regulated by international law; the Fourth Geneva Convention protects civilians under occupation, but current IHL faces complex challenges in some of these situations.

  • Privatization of war / International humanitarian law Privatization of war

    Governments are increasingly using private military and security firms for tasks traditionally assigned to the armed forces. This raises issues over how IHL can be fully applied, so as to ensure protection for civilians.

Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine

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    The grey zone

    The practice of paying for military or security services is as old as war itself. Today, rapid growth and change in the for-profit military and security industry poses major challenges for those concerned about enforcement of human rights and humanitarian law.