GENEVA (Reuters) - Senior military officers from 50 countries gathered in Geneva Monday to put international humanitarian law into simple language that can be understood in theatres of war worldwide.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which organised the two-week course with the Swiss Armed Forces, said that civilians accounted for the overwhelming majority of war casualties despite being protected in the Geneva Conventions laying out the rules of war.
“By making international humanitarian law more easily understandable and accessible to military personnel, the ICRC hopes to give combatants the guidance they need to make the right choices,” the neutral aid organisation said.
Top brass from the United States, Britain, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burundi were among those participating in the workshop held in Swiss army barracks near the centre of Geneva.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger, while acknowledging that “a battlefield is hardly the best place to promote a sense of humanity,” said military leaders needed to do more to protect innocent bystanders and their property from the worst of war.
Armed forces worldwide should integrate the rules of war into their doctrine, education and training, and set up a strong system of sanctions to respond to abuses, he told the group.
“The best way to prevent violations during armed conflicts or other situations of violence is to convince those in charge of field operations that it is always possible to manage them better,” he said.
Lieutenant-General Luc Fellay of the Swiss Armed Forces said that laws of armed conflict are often misunderstood by soldiers, and can be interpreted inconsistently by their superiors.
International humanitarian law sets constraints on the methods by which conflicting parties can fight, aiming to avoid unnecessary carnage and spare civilians and their property.
The rules also spell out principles for providing medical services to those wounded by war, including enemy combatants, as well as acceptable conditions for detention and imprisonment.
Kellenberger said the ICRC is engaging in confidential dialogue with military leaders around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Chad, and Sri Lanka, as part of its mandate to encourage compliance with international humanitarian law. It also meets non-state armed groups when security permits.
(For more information about humanitarian crises and issues visit www.alertnet.org)
Editing by Jonathan Lynn
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