The Financial Express

International Humanitarian Law: Is it protective enough for the medical personnel?

International Humanitarian Law: Is it protective enough for the medical personnel?

War has been a cruel thing since the very beginning. Most of the time, people's rights which are protected by law get violated during a war. We can see in many armed conflicts the rights of civilians being ignored and they become the main hostages of the war. To protect civilians and ensure their rights, International Humanitarian law (IHL) was enacted. It is based on two core principles-- rules protecting victims during the war, and regulating the way military operations are conducted by military personnel's (methods of warfare) and limiting the proliferation of weapons.

Besides, IHL is developed through many treaties and conventions. The Geneva Convention is one of them. It was introduced in 1864 to protect the sick, wounded during a war. This convention provides that all wounded and sick people are entitled to all sorts of treatment. Medical personnel, medical establishment, transport and necessary equipment must be protected under all circumstances and the armed forces are bound to do so.

Medical facilities have always been considered as fundamental human rights and these rights also reserve many other treaties, convention, and protocols. We see many wounded people and medical personnel die without getting proper treatment and facilities which were assured by IHL.

Again, articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Geneva Convention are related to the protection of civilians and providing them medical facilities in the time of war. According to those articles, hospitals must be protected unless they are used for any other purpose than medical services. Civilian hospitals shall be marked by emblems. It means those hospitals are not subject to war and are privileged for wounded civilians. 

IHL especially aims at protecting the medical facilities for maternity cases. Priority in deploying the best possible number of hospital staff and medical personnel is set by the law as well. However, reality is different and no war properly abides by these laws.

Many hospitals were attacked by the armed forces, when the wounded civilians were admitted for treatment. The whole world is aware of the fact of Palestinian nurse Rajan Al- Najar who was a 21 years old voluntary paramedic, killed by Israeli troops near the border. More so, she embraced this unfortunate fate while on duty. The Palestinian medical relief society stated, "She was attempting to provide first aid to an injured protester." She wore clothing that clearly identified her as a healthcare worker by the UN office. The Israel military shot her in cold blood with proper knowledge that she was a medical worker.

Israeli soldiers opened fire at Gaza protesters near the border fence on  May13, 2018, which alone left 211 health workers injured. The case is the same with the Syrian war. Medical professionals are often on the front lines in conflict situations, and it is often seen that they are targeted deliberately. PHR data shows that 923 health workers died till March last year in Syrian conflict that started from 2011.  Among the deceased, 269 were doctors. 143 medical workers were detained or kidnapped and subsequently killed.

Syrian government and their Russian allies are responsible for 91 per cent of those deaths. Autonomous armed groups including ISIS, international coalition forces, Kurdish forces, or unidentified forces are responsible for the rest of the casualties.

After the war of Iraq, the World Health Organisation and the Iraq ministry found that the number of deaths was 11 times higher than the American reports. During the Iraq war many hospitals were attacked by the armed forces. Although American forces alleged those hospitals to be secretly keeping weapons, though they couldn't show any conclusive proof.

The United Nations (UN) which consists of the world leaders seems to have failed to live up to their expectations. The UN Security Council didn't have any significant activities during that war. Clearly, it reflects the fact that world leaders don't bother much about maintaining the IHL and UN is incapable of implementing them in the war. In most wars, somehow powerful countries are involved. It seems powerful countries make laws only to break them at their will. IHL, unfortunately, is one of those titular laws with all sorts of humane rules but no real implementation.

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