Thirteen days after the start of the clashes in Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recalls on Twitter the fundamental principles of humanitarian law in time of war. These are governed by the Geneva Convention, the most recent version of which includes a corpus of four texts drawn up on August 12, 1949, to which are added three additional protocols drawn up in 1977 and 2005.
► Protect civilians, veterans, prisoners of war.
The Geneva Convention imposes the protection of people who are not taking part in hostilities (civilians, religious, etc.) as well as former combatants who are no longer taking part in the clashes. The texts prohibit, for example, shooting at civilians, torturing and inflicting inhuman treatment, attacking hospitals and humanitarian workers or even preventing civilians from fleeing.
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In addition, these texts “consecrate the principle of disinterested aid”, explains the ICRC, which was the historical instigator. Concretely, “the man who, wounded, prisoner or shipwrecked, now defenseless, is no longer an enemy but only a being who suffers”, insists the humanitarian aid institution.
The four texts of the Geneva Convention have been ratified worldwide, which means that each of the States undertakes to respect them.
► The texts apply from the onset of “armed conflict”
The scope of the Geneva Convention comes under its Article 2, common to the four texts. The agreement applies “in case of declared war” or any other “armed conflict arising between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them”.
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For Julia Grignon, professor of international humanitarian law at Laval University, Canada, and author of The Temporal Applicability of International Humanitarian Lawthis article must be placed in its historical context. “Until the Second World War, when states went to war against each other, they declared war on each other. That is to say, an official declaration was issued by an internal body and there was a small delay before the start of hostilities,” explains the researcher.
From the Second World War, clashes took place without prior official declaration: “We realized that limiting the application of the Conventions to ‘declarations of war’ was no longer of much use. (…) You had to be able to trust the facts on the ground. »
► Humanitarian law has applied in Ukraine since 2014
In order to prevent states from circumventing international texts, lawyers now consider that any armed conflict between several states falls under the Geneva Convention, with or without a declaration of war. In the case of Ukraine, even if Vladimir Putin prefers to speak “military operation”the Geneva Convention and its principles therefore apply to both Ukraine and Russia.
If we follow this logic, “humanitarian law has even applied in Ukraine since 2014”,date of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, underlines Julia Grignon. The last two weeks only correspond, according to the lawyer, to “a massive escalation of violence”.