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Geneva Conventions should be respected and applied

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Advocacy | Armed violence reduction | Emergency | Protection | Palestine | PUBLISHED ON January 16th 2024
In a displaced people camp in Khan Younes, Gaza, people are looking at a HI board explaining how to protect yourselves from bombing and shelling.

In a displaced people camp in Khan Younes, Gaza, people are looking at a HI board explaining how to protect yourselves from bombing and shelling. | © HI

States must assume their obligations under the international humanitarian law to end the war in Gaza.

After the vote of the UNSC 2720 resolution, on December 22, 2023, HI continues to be alarmed by the humanitarian situation in Gaza and recalls the obligations of States not party to a conflict to take action to safeguard international humanitarian law.

HI welcomed this positive step but the current text does not reflect the gravity of the situation. We are alarmed by the unwillingness of some states to uphold their responsibilities enshrined in the Geneva Convention and call for a ceasefire.

Humanity & Inclusion remains concerned at the intensity of Israel’s military attacks on Gaza that continue to kill and injure civilians across the Gaza Strip. More than 70% of the 23.000 killed and roughly 60.000 injured since October 7th are women and children, and the toll keeps rising. At least 1.9 million, or 85% of Gaza’s population have been displaced to southern Gaza after Israel issued an evacuation order from the North in October, only to relentlessly bomb the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah where people sought refuge. Meanwhile, Hamas still holds an estimated 130 hostages whose destiny remains unknown and continues to fire rockets into Israel on a daily basis.

Indiscriminate attacks on private property and civilian infrastructure in densely populated areas, large-scale forced movement of population, restrictions on entry of humanitarian aid, besieging of and attacking hospitals, ambulances and medical staff, hostage-taking, as well as arbitrary arrests and reported torture are in clear violation of international humanitarian law that bounds parties to the conflict. It also places responsibility on states not involved in hostilities “to take action to safeguard compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and arguably with the whole body of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).” States, even if not party to a conflict, are still bound by the Geneva Convention rules and should act upon them. States must listen to the civil society and their citizens who are calling for a ceasefire through the petition signed by more than 800 organizations. Supporting and facilitating the provision and delivery of humanitarian assistance is an obligation but this is not enough regarding the extent of suffering of the population. States must take additional measures to ensure IHL is fully respected.

“What humanity needs today is for States to implement Article 1 of the Geneva Convention that establishes the obligation for them to take pro-active measures to ensure the effectivity of International Humanitarian Law.” Anne Héry, Director of Advocacy’’

The absence of effective civilian protection measures is obvious. The living conditions in collective shelters are catastrophic, with overcrowding, and acute lack of water, food, and sanitation triggering severe concerns over the impending spread of disease and starvation. This drastically affects persons with disabilities and persons with injuries, who frequently face barriers to escaping violence due to inaccessible information, warnings, and evacuation routes. In light of this situation, it is essential to recall the protection awarded to persons with disabilities in times of armed conflict, highlighted in UN Security Council Resolution 2475, and the duty of States to ensure their implementation. This also includes allowing and facilitating safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people needing assistance.

At the same time, cutting off electricity and fuel supply to the Gaza Strip leaving the population in complete darkness and preventing delivery of basic services amounts to collective punishment. Besieging and attacking hospitals, in complete violation of IHL, has become the standard modus operandi, leaving only 15 out of 36 hospitals across the Gaza Strip partially functional and able to admit patients albeit with severely limited services.

While a seven-day-long pause in hostilities (24-30 November) enabled the release of 86 Israeli and 24 foreign national hostages and allowed for much needed aid to start trickling into the Strip, very few efforts have been made by the parties to the conflict to negotiate a durable cessation of hostilities and release of remaining hostages.

As such, States not involved in the conflict have an international legal obligation under the IHL to safeguard compliance with the Geneva Conventions. States have several options at their disposal such as: maintaining dialogue with parties to the conflict and exercising diplomatic pressure, implementing measures such as restrictions on arms trade. In addition, States have the obligation to ensure that their support to parties to the conflict does not contribute to human rights and/or international humanitarian law violations and if it does so, to put an immediate end to this support. On this aspect, HI is already engaged with some national authorities asking them to respect their legal obligations under IHL and put an end to their weapons transfer to Israel and ensure that they respect their obligations signed under the political declaration on Explosive Weapons In Populated Areas (EWIPA) and HI will continue to do so.

In addition, States should implement appropriate measures in cooperation with international organizations and strongly, support the Secretary-General clear demand for the fighting to stop, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time since 1989 and vote for a strong UNSC resolution that includes a call for a cessation of hostilities and ensures safe and unimpeded humanitarian access. The UNSC resolution 2720 that was voted is disappointing.

States should do everything in their power to ensure that the Geneva conventions are respected and applied. HI also calls the parties to the conflict to immediately end all hostilities, allow for unlimited, unimpeded, and unrestricted access of aid into Gaza, release all civilian hostages and captives and ensure humane treatment of prisoners of war.

Time for action is now!

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