In celebration of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Month, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), in cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), organized a Mabini Dialogue entitled Fundamental Concepts and Basic Tenets of International Humanitarian Law at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Building on 18 August 2017. The guest speakers were Atty. Evecar Cruz-Ferrer, IHL Coordinator and Legal Advisor of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Brigadier General Jose Antonio Carlos Motril, Human Rights Division Head at the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Atty. Lorna Kapunan, Chairman of the Committee of IHL in the Board of Philippine Red Cross (PRC) served as discussant.
In her presentation, Atty. Cruz-Ferrer explained the basic principles of IHL, also known as the law of war or law of armed conflict. She emphasized that IHL seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting civilians and persons who are no longer participating in the hostilities, and restricting the means and methods of warfare. Atty. Evecar-Cruz clarified that while IHL applies to armed conflicts, it does not regulate a state’s use of force. The use of force is governed by legal precepts under the United Nations Charter. The Philippines, for its part, has adopted Republic Act 9851, Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity. Being a party to the four Geneva Conventions, the Philippines has a legally binding commitment to adopt national measures of implementation, specifically national legislation for the punishment of serious violations of IHL.
Gen. Motril echoed Atty. Cruz-Ferrer’s perspectives on the basic precepts of IHL. He particularly stressed the importance of protecting civilians and medical personnel who attend to the needs of the wounded. Gen. Motril emphasized that, unless imperatively required by military necessity, special care must be taken to avoid damage to historic monuments and buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, education or charitable purposes. He clarified that both states and individuals could be held liable for violations of IHL.
Atty. Kapunan mentioned that it is important to differentiate IHL from human rights law. While some of their rules are similar, these two bodies of law have developed separately and are contained in different treaties. IHL only applies in times of armed conflict, whereas human rights law is applicable at all times. Another important distinction lies in the revocability of these two bodies of law. While most human rights are derogable in times of public emergencies, with few exceptions (Article 4, ICCPR; Article 15 ECHR; Article 27 ACHR), IHL is non-derogable because it was crafted specifically for a public emergency such as armed conflict.
During the open forum, the issue of compliance of non-state groups, such as rebel groups, to IHL was discussed. Gen. Motril said that it would be difficult to hold non-state groups accountable for their actions. However, it must be noted that respect of IHL by all parties to conflict is a customary rule.
The Mabini Dialogue on IHL was concluded with the awarding of certificates of appreciation to the guest speakers.