Commonwealth delegates discuss civilian protection in conflicts

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African governments must always protect civilians during armed conflicts, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday, as the 5th Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference on International Humanitarian Law, opened in the capital Kigali.

The meeting comes as Africa struggles to resolve armed conflicts in the Central African Republic, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan among others.

Helen Durham, the director for international law and policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said for particular countries in Africa it is really important that they hold onto the rule of law.

“What we see today is unacceptable, the attacks against women, children and men,” Durham told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, adding that the use of particular weapons, hostilities is unacceptable.

She added that the International Committee of the Red Cross, “demands that governments hold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, train the military, and engage civilians to let them understand that even wars have limits.”

Today we must make sure that people are protected during times of armed conflicts, she stressed.

Experts said that even in protesting for example, governments have a duty to protect protestors regardless of their political views and opinions.

Earlier, Steve Malby, the head of office of civil and criminal justice reform at the Commonwealth Secretariat called on Commonwealth states to strengthen their continued collaboration to entrench the protection of victims of armed conflicts.

Although most of the Commonwealth countries are not in armed conflict, he said, this is not a reason to ignore International Humanitarian Law because the rules of this law are also about prevention of human suffering in conflict.

More than 150 delegates from more than 35 Commonwealth countries and their Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are attending the five-day conference.

The conference runs from June 10 through 14 with participants discussing how to address serious violations of international humanitarian law, particularly how Geneva Convention is being implemented.

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