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Belgium: How to protect those most vulnerable in armed conflict?

17-10-2013 News Release 13/170

Brussels (ICRC) – In times of war, not everyone experiences the same hardships. Certain groups are more exposed than others to the severe effects of violations of international humanitarian law. How is it possible to fight sexual violence, forced recruitment of children into combat troops, or torture inflicted on people held in detention? Legal measures aiming to protect the people most at risk will be at the centre of discussions at the 14th Bruges Colloquium, which will take place in the Belgian city on 17 and 18 October.

"In present-day societies based on the rule of law, if people in power feel that their authority is threatened or significantly undermined, they may find themselves tempted to use excessive force in order to achieve political or military aims. And the same is true of people in the opposition," said François Bellon, who heads the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the European Union, NATO and Belgium. "When that happens, certain groups – such as women, children, detainees, injured people and health-care workers – are especially vulnerable."

The Bruges Colloquium, organized by the ICRC and the College of Europe, will bring together researchers, university professors and experts from governments and international organizations for two days to discuss issues relating to the deepening of vulnerabilities in armed conflict.

"As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the ICRC and humanitarian work, the extent to which respect for health services – and for the very principle of humanitarian access to conflict victims – is being trampled underfoot every day is an outrage," said Mr Bellon.

As part of their work with the European Union and NATO, the ICRC and the College of Europe have held a colloquium on international humanitarian law every year since 2000 (for further information:

For further information, please contact:
Thomas Vanden Driessche, ICRC Brussels, tel: +32 2 286 58 70 or +32 478 24 00 51