International Humanitarian Law (IHL) stipulates the rules of armed conflict which include the protection of civilians, prisoners of war and those neutrally involved, such as relief workers and the media.
The Red Cross Movement and IHL are inextricably linked. Both stem from the experience of Swiss businessman, Henry Dunant, who witnessed the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in modern-day northern Italy (1859).
Horrified by the sight tens of thousands of untreated injured soldiers on the battlefield, Henry Dunant organised the local population to provide assistance, regardless of which side combatants fought on.
This ultimately led Dunant to found the Red Cross Movement and secure establishment of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 - the first formal IHL treaty. It created protections for the wounded in war and also established the Red Cross Movement in international law.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols as they exist today contain numerous provisions granting the Red Cross specific legal protections in times of armed conflict.
For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is entitled to visit prisoners of war, and in general, can give assistance to victims of war. This legal connection between a humanitarian organisation and a specific area of international law is unique.
Ireland and IHL
Ireland is renowned across the world for responding to crises and helping in under-developed areas. Ireland has ratified a large number of IHL treaties and in 2008 Ireland helped broker agreement on the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted by 107 states in Dublin.
IHL plays an important part in protecting those of us who travel to dangerous places on humanitarian grounds. Our many aid workers need knowledge of IHL to protect themselves and those they assist. For Irish Defence Forces on peacekeeping missions with the UN and EU, IHL is often a critical aspect of their mandate. Members of An Garda Síochána and representatives of government departments and diplomatic corps are also afforded vital protections overseas.
It is also the responsibility of the Irish Red Cross, like all national societies, to undertake a range of actions to promote respect and understanding of IHL in the community.
For IHL to be useful in times of war it must be understood during times of peace. When conflict occurs, it is often too late. For all these reasons, IHL is hugely relevant to Irish people.