Peter Maurer appeals to States: "Respect the laws of war"

31 October 2015

Statement by Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of Red Cross

Secretary General,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I came back just this morning from Mogadishu, Somalia. I could have come back from Afghanistan, Syria, or Yemen, from the Sudans or the Lake Chad region and from many other places. The message would have been the same: now, more than ever, the respective foundations of our two organizations, international humanitarian law, the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the UN Charter need strong reaffirmation by the international community.

This is why today, for the very first time, we are coming together, to jointly appeal to States and other actors engaged in armed conflict to respect and protect the principle of humanity.
This decision mirrors a deep concern in both institutions to which we wish to draw the attention of political leaders: we have entered a new era, and it is not a peaceful one.

It is an era of protracted armed conflicts, which add up to a world at war.
The causes are complex. The consequences are far-reaching. The humanitarian implications are massive.

It is an era in which the international community too often tacitly accepts as a given the harmful impact of war on people. This is both morally unacceptable and in contradiction with century-old laws and principles.

If States, other actors in conflict, and the international community as a whole do not act responsibly now, there will be millions more victims. Acting responsibly means redoubling efforts to achieve political solutions and, pending such achievements, ensuring that humanitarian principles and law are respected.

Today, armed conflicts are tearing apart vast parts of the world. Millions of people are exposed to violence and live with less than adequate water, food, shelter and health services. Millions of children are out of school. Hospitals are being attacked, patients, doctors, nurses and humanitarian workers killed. Displacement due to fighting and violence is chronic, attaining unprecedented levels. This is not acceptable.

International humanitarian law establishes limits in war. Wars without limits are wars without end. And wars without end mean endless suffering.

When the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are applied, humanitarian workers can operate in even the most tense, dangerous and volatile theatres of war.

We work for the protection of civilians from the impact of weapons and for the humane treatment of detainees. We assist communities by providing water, food, shelter and health care. And we do so, protected by law and principles. When humanitarian law and principles are disregarded, when humanitarian needs are trumped by political agendas, when access to the wounded and sick is denied, and when security concerns lead to a suspension of operations, people are abandoned, the notion of protection loses its meaning, and humanity is flouted.

We ask that States reaffirm our shared humanity through concrete action and uphold their responsibility to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

We ask that States and non-State armed groups protect civilians in armed conflict by respecting the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality and by condemning both the use of illegal weapons and weapons' illegal use, notably in densely populated areas. Starvation, rape and other forms of sexual violence, summary executions, as well as inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees must stop.

We ask that States and non-State armed groups protect health-care facilities and workers, as specifically enshrined in international humanitarian law.

We ask that States and non-State armed groups recognize the humanitarian principles that guide the ICRC's activities, in particular the necessity to engage with all parties to a conflict.

We ask that States and non-State armed groups facilitate, not hinder, the delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection activities.

In the midst of conflict, humanity is too often abandoned.

But in the midst of conflict, there is also hope, immense compassion and solidarity, which makes it possible to imagine and work towards a different era.

Seventy years since the United Nations was founded to maintain international peace and security, fifty years since the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were adopted, the world is at a turning point.

In five weeks' time, the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will bring together representatives of 196 States in Geneva for three days around a vibrant and forward-looking agenda. A couple of months later, the World Humanitarian Summit will meet in Istanbul. These two events will represent unique opportunities for States to translate international humanitarian law and the Fundamental Principles into meaningful action and to renew a contract for humanity that will benefit millions of people affected by armed conflict worldwide.

Thank you.