Research Handbooks in Human Rights series
Edited by Robert Kolb and Gloria Gaggioli
Chapter 17: ‘Humanitarian rights’: how to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law in armed conflicts
Today’s wars have no frontiers. Villages are the battlefronts. Cities have become scenes of unfathomable atrocities. Civilians are deliberate targets. Children are warlords as well as victims. Rape is a weapon of war such that it is now even more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in contemporary armed conflicts. Human rights and humanitarian law violations are committed in armed conflicts by insurgents as well as government troops. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the most visible threat to the human rights of civilians are the government soldiers. The inevitable trend is that battlefields have been increasingly imposed on civilians in contemporary warfare. Yet, the principle of the protection of civilians and non- combatants in armed conflicts is the centrepiece of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols. The challenge is how to ensure respect of human rights and humanitarian norms by belligerents in an on-going armed conflict. Humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers have also been abducted and murdered by unscrupulous belligerents in conflict situations such as Darfur. Peacekeepers, who are supposed to be protecting civilians, often find themselves in these precarious situations without capacity and capability to protect civilians, which sends the wrong signal to warring factions as well as the populations they are supposed to protect. This growing trend also raises disturbing questions about the political will, capability and capacity of the military forces in the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. The question, therefore, is how to compel States and non-state armed groups to comply with obligations
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