by Travis Normand
When I started this blog, one of my main purposes was to create a place where people could go to learn about the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC or IHL). It was my hope to create a place where you could find (1) basic information that facilitates an understanding of the LOAC, (2) links to other online LOAC resources, (3) current news concerning the LOAC, and (4) some commentary on the LOAC-related current events and news.
So, in keeping with No. 2 above, I must post an article that I found this morning:
Syria is bound by the laws of war
Those responsible for war crimes in Syria must be pursued and prosecuted according to international humanitarian law
It is now widely acknowledged that an armed conflict is taking place across Syria between government forces (including militias) and organised armed opposition groups. This means the laws of war (also known as international humanitarian law, or IHL) apply and bind all sides, and violations may amount to war crimes.
These detailed laws have been in force for decades, so we are a long way from the days when it could be said that in times of war the law falls silent. But the basic principles of the laws of war are still surprisingly little understood. The words “war criminal” seem to be mostly used as a term of derision, rather than a statement of fact, let alone a requirement to prosecute. Therefore it is vital to understand the basic principles of IHL when considering what is going on in Syria today.
The most basic principle of all is that all parties fighting in the conflict must distinguish between combatants and civilians, and take “all feasible precautions” at all times to protect civilians and civilian property. Civilians, and civilian objects – eg homes, schools, hospitals – may never be the object of attack, so they can never be specifically targeted.
Personally, I thought the article was well done as it gives a basic overview and understanding of how the LOAC works. Further, if you read the entire article, you will see that the author (Mr. Clive Baldwin) includes a brief couple of paragraphs on the prosecution of war crimes and the ICC.
While I am not sure I would recommend such an article to my law school’s LOAC professor, I would encourage everyone else to read it (especially if you are a current law student who is fortunate enough to be taking a class on the LOAC).