What is International Humanitarian Law and why is it relevant in the Philippines?

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International Humanitarian Law, or IHL, is a set of rules which seek to limit the effects of armed conflict and to reduce the human suffering caused by it. In the context of war, IHL calls for the protection of civilians, service providers like medical personnel, and persons who were previously involved in the armed conflict but have ceased fighting. This includes soldiers who are wounded, sick, shipwrecked, or otherwise unable to fight (known as hors de combat); surrenderees; and prisoners of war.

All persons protected under IHL are entitled to humane treatment, medical care, and other legal guarantees. IHL also places restrictions on certain means and methods of warfare that fail to discriminate between civilians and combatants that cause superfluous injury, or cause severe damage to the environment. Violations of international humanitarian law are known as war crimes.

IHL was developed over hundreds of years of human history, as people witnessed the potential for excess suffering in armed conflicts. Such excesses include murder of wounded soldiers, torture, use of chemical weapons, and more. The codification of universal IHL began in the late nineteenth century, but it was primarily laid out following World War II. The Geneva Conventions of 1949, and their Additional Protocols of 1977, define the major parts of IHL used today. Many other agreements and conventions have developed the rules of IHL since.

In the Philippines, IHL applies to the active armed conflict in the country between the revolutionary movement represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), which has been ongoing since 1969. Both the NDFP and GRP have explicitly expressed their willingness to abide by IHL, mainly through the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) over the course of peace negotiations.

Since the signing of CARHRIHL in 1998, however, IHL violations continue to mount under the GRP’s US-designed counter-insurgency strategy. The Philippine national army, police, and militias have carried out bombings of civilian communities, kidnapping and torture of civilians, murder and desecration of hors de combat, among countless other violations. These violations are the subject of the upcoming International People’s Tribunal, from May 17-18, which will put the US government and Marcos and Duterte regimes on trial for war crimes.

For more information about the International People’s Tribunal, visit www.peoplestribunal.net