Two sides of the Int’l Humanitarian Law Day

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    ‘The platitudes and celebration activities from government officials are great, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating…’

    LAST Wednesday, August 12, marked the world’s celebration of International Humanitarian Law Day, a nondescript observance among nations and organizations, which came and passed without much fanfare or notice from the greater part of society. But the IHL Day is important because it raises the concern of human dignity, especially in times of emergency such as today, amidst social upheaval, unrest, and health and security crises.

    In the Philippines, the national observance of the IHL Day is pursuant to Executive Order No. 134 signed by President Joseph Estrada in 1999. The IHL is also referred to as the Law of Armed Conflict and is part of international law which regulates the conduct of war.

    Also this week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reaffirmed its vow to adhere to the International Humanitarian Law, or the rules and procedures designed to be observed by all states and organizations to limit the effects of armed conflict. Newly appointed AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said: “We will continue to carry out our duties and responsibilities to protect our citizens caught in the middle of armed conflict and assure total respect to their human rights as stipulated in the International Humanitarian Law.”

    The IHL is supported in its implementation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), its “guardian and promoter,” as a major part of the law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 formed after World War II.

    These are the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea; the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; and the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

    The Philippines is party to the four Geneva Conventions and accepts responsibility for the application of IHL. In a previous IHL Day message, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said “it lies with us to always be decent toward our fellow human beings; especially the weakest among them. For it is they who most deserve — they who have the greatest claim on us to protect them. There is no obligation to protect the strong; there is a morally and therefore rationally compelling duty to risk our safety and lives–we who are able to save them. No greater love than to give one’s life for the helpless.”

    The platitudes and celebration activities from government officials are great, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this we know. The AFP this week condemned communist groups in the country “for their continued atrocities against civilians and non-combatants,” citing 104 human rights violations committed by the New People’s Army (NPA) and other Communist Party organizations from January to June 2020.

    The NPA, the CPP and the National Democratic Front, on the other hand, continue to hurl similar charges of state repression and criminal activities, the latest being the killing of NDF peace consultant Randall Echanis in his home in Quezon City just this week.

    “We join every Filipino in their call for just and lasting peace, an end to decades-old violence, and the complete victory against the New People’s Army and its front organizations that continue to exploit and put the lives of innocent people at risk,” General Gapay said. The leaders of the CPP and other rebel organizations had the same things to say about the government, but from their own perspective. And the Filipino masses are just too busy dodging the coronavirus and making ends meet to think about how both sides are observing the IHL.