IHL and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts - a new series

IHL and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts - a new series - Photo courtesy of Reuters

IHL and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts - a new series - Photo courtesy of Reuters

As the nature and characteristics of contemporary conflicts change, the operational reality in which we work also evolves, and with it the necessity to reflect upon the adequacy of international humanitarian law to tackle new challenges.

The ICRC naturally seeks to be attentive to new problems as they arise. Given our mandate to work for the faithful application of IHL and our proximity to the realities of armed conflict and other situations of violence, we are in fact involved in a continual effort to clarify the norms applicable to current conflicts.

We, like others, believe that it is necessary to take stock of circumstances that might not have been foreseen when existing IHL instruments were adopted. These challenges include those related to the fight against non-state actors with an international reach or those stemming from cyberwarfare or the use of drones and robotics in hostilities. There too, we seek to remain involved and relevant in discussions that might lead to a development of the law while always considering whether it is necessary - and if so, how - to align these new developments with existing law. 

As a rule, we seek to find practical solutions through sustained engagement and welcome the points of view of states and experts. We in fact actively seek out discussions that may help us identify areas of consensus and, most importantly, possibilities of action.

Over the coming weeks and based on International Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts, a report presented by the ICRC at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Intercross will aim to generate a discussion on four key areas of international humanitarian law: typology of conflicts, IHL and terrorism, new technologies of warfare and multinational operations.

I will introduce each theme with an excerpt from International Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts and an interview with an ICRC legal expert. I will then post contributions by non-ICRC experts from the US and abroad who will either critique the ICRC position, build on it or take the discussion in new directions. Each debate will be summarized in a post by a member of our own ICRC Washington legal team.

I hope that this experiment in digital dialogue between our legal experts and those working in academia, NGOs or the military is of interest to you. Given our limited resources, we will unfortunately not be able to respond to comments made on Intercross but you are welcome to write here with your feedback.

First off, an interview with Knut Doermann, head of the ICRC Legal Division, to help us frame this series and the ICRC report we will use as a stepping stone for discussions over the next weeks.

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