Reclaiming protection of civilians under international humanitarian law: reflections from the Oslo global conference

Reclaiming protection of civilians under international humanitarian law: reflections from the Oslo global conference

Over the past sixty years, international humanitarian law (IHL) has established a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflicts. There is broad consensus that these guidelines afford non-combatants significant protections from the effects of military operations − provided they are carefully implemented by all sides to a conflict. Notwithstanding these measures, on a daily basis civilians are directly affected, through death, injury, rape and forcible displacement as a direct consequence of war, or indirectly through conflict-induced increases in disease, hunger and malnutrition. As modern conflicts are often fought in areas with large populations, civilians find themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire, contributing to a legacy of socio-economic challenges to be dealt with long after the cessation of hostilities. It is important to further regulate and clarify IHL if academics and practitioners alike are to keep up with new developments in modern warfare and humanitarian concerns.

It is a widely understood, however, that the main obstacles to better PoC in armed conflicts primarily relate to the ways in which IHL is implemented, and general lack of respect for the rules by parties to conflicts. In response to these gaps, some countries – Argentina, Austria, Indonesia, Norway and Uganda − have hosted global conferences to come up with vital and workable recommendations on the best implementation of PoC ideals and practices under international humanitarian law.

This Policy & Practice Brief (PPB) discusses select recommendations that emerged from the Oslo, Norway, global conference of 2013, which built on the Geneva conventions of 1947 and 1977, respectively. It highlights these endorsements, while linking their application to ongoing processes and frameworks in the context of peace operations in Africa, with the goal of revamping the application of IHL in moderating existing and emerging hostilities across the globe.

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