72 years of the Geneva Conventions: What they mean for Malaysia

72 years of the Geneva Conventions: What they mean for Malaysia

The article was written by the ICRC Malaysia’s Legal Adviser, Aisya Abdul Rahman
Article 13 August 2021 Malaysia

Along with 196 other countries, Malaysia is a state party to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 that form the basis of international humanitarian law (IHL). When Malaysia signed the Geneva Conventions in 1962, it recognised that even wars have rules. These limits have helped save countless lives around the world and they will continue to do so as long as conflict exists.

Anchored in the principle that people must be treated with humanity even during armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions lay down fundamental rules to protect those who are not or no longer taking part in hostilities. This includes civilians and healthcare workers and the places they live and work in, including homes, schools and hospitals, as well as essential infrastructure.

Hospitals and medical staff bearing the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem are also legally protected. This ensures that people who are sick and wounded, including wounded soldiers from any party, can receive the treatment and care they need.

Torture and ill-treatment are prohibited against prisoners of war and civilian detainees. The lives and dignity of people deprived of their liberty must be preserved, regardless of the reason for their detention and they must be allowed to communicate with their relatives.

To ensure that these rules are respected during wartime, states party to the Geneva Conventions are required to implement specific measures during peacetime. States must train their armed forces personnel about the rules before they go to war and translate the Geneva Conventions into their national language so that the rules are easily and widely understood.

States also need to ensure that the Geneva Conventions are enforced within their territories by incorporating them in domestic law and providing legal mechanisms to hold those who violate IHL accountable.

In addition to providing humanitarian assistance to people affected by conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is mandated under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols to strengthen and promote respect for IHL. As such, we are also present in conflict-free countries such as Malaysia, where we support government and civil society organisations to better understand IHL and to strengthen its importance locally and globally.

The Geneva Conventions Act of 1962 was enacted to implement the Geneva Conventions in Malaysia. The Act has not, unfortunately, been translated into Malay nor has it been updated to reflect the challenges and realities of today's world. This now represents an opportunity for Malaysia to play a more active role in promoting and strengthening humanitarian law, both domestically and globally.

You too can play a part in calling for and contributing to change, whether through your Member of Parliament, community or on social media.

The ICRC, through its Kuala Lumpur office, is here to help you.