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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 21
May 26, 2007

This week's issue:
Law Vision
Human Rights Advocacy
Star Law analysis
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Human Rights Advocacy

The concern is humanity

Elyus Rahman

International humanitarian law is a branch of the law of nations, or international law. That law governs relations between members of the international community, namely States. International law is supranational, and its fundamental rules are binding on all States. Its goals are to maintain peace, to protect the human being in a just order, and to promote social progress in freedom.

International humanitarian law (IHL), also called the law of armed conflict and previously known as the law of war, is a special branch of law governing situations of armed conflict -- in a word, war. International humanitarian law seeks to mitigate the effects of war, first, in that it limits the choice of means and methods of conducting military operations and secondly, in that it obliges the belligerents to spare persons who do not or no longer participate in hostile actions. Fundamental rules of IHL are -- ensure humane treatment of persons not taking part in hostilities, do not kill or injure protected persons, collect and care for the wounded and sick, respect the lives and dignity of captured combatants and civilians, respect fundamental judicial guarantees during trials and proceedings, the choice of means and methods of warfare is not unlimited, distinguish between combatants and civilians at all times -- attack only military objectives.

International humanitarian law and international human rights law

Both share a common purpose -- protecting human dignity; guarantee respect for life -- physical and mental well being. Both technically apply in armed conflict but they are designed to apply to different kinds of situations. IHL offers more protection in armed conflict than general non-derogable human rights.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded nearly a century and a half ago. It seeks to preserve a measure of humanity in the midst of war. Its guiding principle is that even in war there are limits: limits on how warfare is conducted and limits on how combatants behave. The set of rules that were established with this in mind and endorsed by nearly every nation in world is known as international humanitarian law, of which the Geneva Conventions are the bedrock. Generally this new branch of international law is introduced through ICRC for the first time. Under the statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, one of the ICRC tasks is to prepare possible developments in international humanitarian law. So, ICRC is playing as a promoter of humanitarian law. The ICRC's special role was assigned to it by States through the various instruments of humanitarian law. However, while it maintains constant dialogue with States, it insists at all times on its independence. For, only if it is free to act independently of any government or other authority, can the ICRC serve the true interest of the victims' of conflict, which lies at the heart of its humanitarian mission.

The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization. Its mandate to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict has been conferred on it by States through the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, worthy successors to the First Geneva Convention of 1864. The ICRC's mandate and legal status set it apart both from intergovernmental agencies, such as United Nations Organization and from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Through agreements which are subject to international law, the ICRC enjoys the privileges and immunities usually only granted to intergovernmental organizations. ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them the assistance. ICRC visits don't affect the legal status of the detainee, ICRC does not question the legitimacy of detention, ICRC does not ask for the release of detainees except on humanitarian grounds. ICRC has 7 fundamental principles -- humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

ICRC has delegations and missions in some 80 countries around the world. From December 2005 ICRC has three emblems, Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal.

Chronological development of IHL
1864: Geneva Convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded in armies in the field

1899: The Hague Conventions respecting the laws and customs of war on land and the adoption to maritime warfare of the principles of the 1864 Geneva Convention

1906: Review and development of the 1864 Geneva Convention

1907: Review of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and adoption of new Conventions

1929: Two Geneva Conventions:
*Review and development of the 1906 Geneva Convention
*Geneva Convention relating to the treatment of prisoners of war (new)

1949: Four Geneva Conventions:
i Amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field
ii Amelioration of the condition of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea
iii Treatment of prisoners of war
iv Protection of civilian persons in time of war (new)
1954: The Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict
1977: Two Protocols additional to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, which strengthen the protection of victims of international (Protocol I) and non-international (Protocol- II) armed conflicts
1997: Convention on the prohibition of the use, stocking, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction
1998: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
2000: Optional protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
2005: Protocol addition to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, and relating to the adoption of an additional distinctive emblem
Bond between ICRC and South Asian Teaching Sessions (SATS)

The ICRC has been conducting an annual South Asian Teaching Session (SATS) on International Humanitarian Law since 1998. The SATS is an eight days intensive training course on IHL, designed for academicians and mid level legal professionals who are working in the areas of IHL, human rights and related fields of International Law. Commencing in 2007 the ICRC will conduct two SATS each year, in cooperation with local academic institutes and international law organizations. The first SATS in 2007 was held in cooperation with NALSAR (National Academy for Legal Studies and Research) University at Hyderabad, India from 11-18 April 2007. The first SATS in 2007 included 45 participants from nine countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Actually, this was not a teaching session in general. The participants from multi culture shaped a coloured gathering and gave themselves the opportunity to share. It twisted a knot among the participants from various ethnicities. This eight days teaching session offered the participants a vast knowledge on international humanitarian law.

The writer is working with Odhikar.


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