Stop the insanity: ICRC President warns even wars must have limits

ICRC President, Peter Maurer, giving remarks at a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) event in Washington, D.C. on humanitarian negotiations on April 28, 2016. Copyright:ICRC

ICRC President, Peter Maurer, giving remarks at a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) event in Washington, D.C. on humanitarian negotiations on April 28, 2016. Copyright:ICRC

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, is on a mission to get people to sit up and pay attention to the law of armed conflict. Much more importantly, he wants warring parties to fight by the rules – militaries and armed groups alike.

This week, he’s in New York, where he addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday, telling them that, “Even wars have limits, because wars without limits are wars without ends.” His speech comes less than a week after dozens of patients and staff – including a well-known pediatrician – were killed at the Al Quds Hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo. More health facilities have come under fire in the past few days.

Mr. Maurer praised the Council for passing resolution S/2016/380, which condemns attacks against health workers and facilities, and he pointed out that as wars and armed conflicts have evolved from open battlefields to urban areas, and from pistols to mass shelling and bombardments by air forces, “the wounded and sick are no longer just those in uniform.”

He said the Council’s next step should be to ensure that practical measures are taken to ensure that humanity in war is a reality, not just an ideal, and he offered ways in which the ICRC stands ready to support this.

"What the hell?"

Last week, President Maurer was in Washington D.C., where he met U.S. officials from the White House, Pentagon, State Department, C.I.A., and other government agencies. He also met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the leadership of the American Red Cross. The items on his agenda in Washington ranged from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and the impact of U.S. military operations on civilians to migration in the Americas and the situation in the Middle East.

Read the news release about his visit.

Mr. Maurer also sat down with the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier and explained in no uncertain terms why it’s unhelpful when the Geneva Conventions, which form the backbone of the laws of war, are called into question – no matter who’s doing the questioning.

“What the hell is happening to the world when those who were at the origin of… international humanitarian law start questioning in public debates whether it has any relevance or should be respected?” Mr. Maurer told The Daily Beast.

“You don’t torture people. You don’t indiscriminately attack civilians. You protect as good as you can the impact of your warfare on women and children,” Mr. Maurer said in his interview. “You treat detainees humanely, because you know the other side will also treat detainees humanely.”

Read the full article on The Daily Beast.

As the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul draws closer at the end of May, Mr. Maurer will no doubt continue to speak out forcefully in favor of these rules, which were, after all, crafted to enable States to protect their national security by balancing military necessity with humanity.

One of the key takeaways of his visit to the U.S.: “Now is the time for all nations, including the U.S., to reaffirm their commitment to ensure better global respect for international humanitarian law and to reduce the vast human suffering caused by armed conflict and violence worldwide.”