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Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 16, 2017 at 9:06 AM

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

The battle for Raqqa, a symbolic city for the Islamic State or, under its Arabic acronym, “Daesh” (ISIS/DAESH) in Syria is underway with ever-increasing dangers to civilian populations caught in the cross-fire of ISIS/DAESH and the advancing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by air strikes of the United States (U. S.)-led coalition.

The United Nations (UN) Secretariat has raised an alarm concerning the fate of families held by the ISIS/DAESH forces for possible use as “human shields” in the battle for the city of Raqqa held by ISIS/DAESH since 2014. The use of civilians as “human shields” is a violation of the laws of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. ISIS/DAESH leaders have been repeatedly warned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, by treaty, is responsible for the respect and application of the Geneva Conventions.

SDF_infantry_in_northern_Raqqa_countryside_(December_2016)

Infantry soldiers with the Syrian Democratic Forces patrolling the Raqqa countryside in December 2016. (C) VOA

In addition to the families which have been rounded up or are prevented from leaving, there are a large number of children trapped in the city and who may be used in military ways, either to fight or as suicide bombers.

The danger from the disintegrating ISIS/DAESH is that there are no longer the few restraints that existed among some of the ISIS/DAESH leadership for the laws of war. As troops have drawn closer to Raqqa, they have found mass graves with both soldiers and civilians killed. One of the fundamental aspects of the laws of war is the protection of prisoners of war. Once a person is no longer able to combat, he must be treated as a prisoner and no longer a combatant. Not killing a prisoner is a core value of humanitarian law, and ISIS/DAESH has deliberately violated this norm.

There is a real danger that, as the “caliphate” disintegrates and no longer controls territory, ISIS/DAESH will increase terrorist actions and deliberate violations of the laws of war. The Association of World Citizens has stressed that the laws of war have become part of world law and are binding upon States and non-State actors even if they have not signed the Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. The AWC calls to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions and white phosphorus munitions. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law

YPG-SDF_fighters_near_the_Euphrates_east_of_Raqqa

Fighters with the YPG Kurdish units and the SDF near the Euphrates east of Raqqa. (C) VOA

World law does not destroy violence unless it is bound up with an organized, stable and relatively just society. No society can be stable unless it is broadly based in which all sectors of the population are involved. Such stability does not exist in either Syria or Iraq. However repeated violations of the laws of war will increase the divide among groups and communities.

Only by a wide public outcry in defense of humanitarian law can this danger be reduced. These grave violations by ISIS/DAESH and others must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. The time for action is now.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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