In Dublin today a conference addressed the need for respect for the protection of humanitarian actors providing assistance in situations of armed conflict.
The conference, at the Royal Irish Academy, was attended by a cross section of Irish organisations engaged, directly and indirectly, in the provision of humanitarian assistance in situations of armed conflict and for whom awareness, understanding and respect for humanitarian law, or ‘the law of armed conflict’ helps create safer environments in which they can save lives. In attendance were representatives from Goal and Concern, as well as the Irish Defence Forces.
Speakers at today’s conference presented observations and challenges on existing legal provisions, and the respect for such provisions. Speaker, Len Blazeby, Legal Adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said at the event, “There are two things that I hope the audience can take from today’s event. Firstly, a greater understanding of the law that helps with the protection and provision of assistance in the context of armed conflict, and also the fact that what needs to be worked on is respect for this law. There is of course still much to be strived for, but we would be in a much worse position if these laws were not in place”.
Colm Byrne, Head of the International Department of Irish Red Cross (IRC) said “In recent weeks air strikes in Somalia interrupted the distribution of vital food supplies to over 6,000 displaced people; in September, a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer was killed whilst evacuating an injured person to hospital. These are just two of many examples I could give of difficulties being faced by humanitarian personnel working in countries affected by armed conflict”.
Attacks on humanitarian workers, as well as other restrictions, substantially limit the ability of humanitarian aid agencies to provide assistance to those most in need in situations of armed conflict meaning that millions of people around the world are denied the basic food, water, shelter and sanitation necessary for survival.
Byrne went on to say “It’s vital that we promote respect for international humanitarian law by improving awareness and understanding of the protection it provides amongst all those active in situations of armed conflict. This includes not only humanitarian agencies themselves but also the defence forces, armed groups and states who may be required to consent to and facilitate humanitarian assistance which is impartial in character and conducted without adverse distinction”.
International Humanitarian Law, often referred to as the ‘laws of war’ are a set of rules which strive, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict and to protect civilians or those no longer taking part in conflict as well as, medical personnel, civil defence staff and humanitarian workers.
The IRC works in Ireland and overseas providing humanitarian assistance in disaster and conflict situations and has a part mandate to promote awareness and understanding of International Humanitarian Law.