Wednesday, August 10, 2022
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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Opinion | Syria as an example of a selective implementation of IHL

August 1, 2022 marked the beginning of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) month.

Also referred to as the ‘law of armed conflict’, IHL is a body of law that aims to minimise the horrendous impact of armed conflict and protect people who are not part of prevailing hostilities, as well as those who have seized involvement in those hostilities.

The Geneva Conventions that constitute the foundation underpinning IHL came into existence in 1949. It is a set of international treaties and protocols that are comprised of very strict rules that sternly address the disregard of the Geneva Conventions. This noble form of legal protection is extended to wounded and sick soldiers on land and at sea, prisoners of war, and all civilians.

Formally endorsed and espoused by all countries, these laws are globally applicable and any party found guilty of flouting these laws risks being tried and extradited — at least technically.

The millions left destitute in Syria and Yemen over more than a decade are among the worst examples of the failure of regional and global powers

Blanche Michael

Naturally, one cannot help but wonder why and how come these very strong legal provisions are not implemented universally on the ground level. These laws present really well in general political rhetoric or international media, yet atrocities of mammoth proportions committed by many world governments (not least the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia or China) have persisted on a continual basis since the ratification of the Geneva Conventions 73 years ago.

The millions left destitute in Syria and Yemen over more than a decade are among the worst examples of the failure of regional and global powers to grant protection and relief to the people who are legally entitled to be protected by the tenets of the Geneva Conventions.

The human cost of the international community’s outright failure to guarantee protection to the millions of civilians who have been consumed in the Syrian genocide and the war in Yemen needs no mention. Despite extensive media coverage and pleas from aid agencies in both instances, lives are lost, women are violated and children orphaned. It is simply just unfathomable how one could even consider heralding the ‘protections’ granted by IHL when so many civilians have been disregarded by the laws that were developed to safeguard them from the atrocities that accompany war situations.

Resources must be invested into establishing a more successful way to ensure that all, and not some, are protected by the provisions of IHL.

Blanche Michael

For the rest of August, social media platforms will be alive with social justice organisations attempting to illuminate the supposed successes and benefits of IHL since 1949. However, these celebratory efforts are entirely futile when one ponders upon the disastrous failure and inefficacy of IHL in real life situations. Instead, greater consideration needs to be given to how and why the implementation and realisation of IHL has been so dismal. Resources must be invested into establishing a more successful way to ensure that all, and not some, are protected by the provisions of IHL.

The selective implementation of human rights provisions for a further 73 years will bring with it even more dire realities for the world’s citizens, but a reflection and a revisit in policy can map a successful way forward.

Blanche Michael
Blanche Michael
Blanche Michael was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where she lives to this day. Growing up in Apartheid South Africa and witnessing political violence and tyranny first hand as a child, instilled within her a heightened sense of social and political awareness.

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