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Opinion

EDITORIAL - International Humanitarian Law Day

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In the age of terror, invoking international humanitarian law seems like a pathetic exercise in futility. Remind the Abu Sayyaf about the Geneva Conventions and you will get incredulous laughter. Terrorists precisely go for "soft targets" – unguarded or lightly secured places packed with civilians. From New York and Washington to Bali and Mindanao, we have seen how defenseless civilians are always the biggest casualties in terrorist operations. Government forces, responding to the threats, often also disregard the safety of civilians.

A nationwide survey conducted in 1999 by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine National Red Cross, Greenberg Research Inc. and Social Weather Stations showed that only 12 percent of Filipinos have heard of the Geneva Conventions. Of the 12 percent, many thought the Geneva Conventions did not apply to armed conflicts in the Philippines.

The original Geneva Conventions signed on Aug. 12, 1949 sought to provide protection to sick, wounded and shipwrecked soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians. Two protocols were added to the conventions in 1977, aiming to increase protection for non-combatants in both international and local armed conflicts. Philippine soldiers are given seminars on the conventions. Communist and Islamic separatist rebels refer to the conventions in their talks with the government.

And yet civilians continue to die in the conflicts that bedevil the nation. Among the favorite targets of attacks are public markets, malls and buses. In Davao City, an airport and a wharf were bombed; nearly all the casualties were civilians. Emerging terrorist groups such as the Jemaah Islamiyah are not bound by international conventions. JI specifically targets areas teeming with civilians, such as nightclubs and hotels frequented by foreigners.

Still, for whatever it’s worth, it’s good to remind all combatants that there is such a thing as humanitarian law. Today, the 54th anniversary of the Four Geneva Conventions, also marks International Humanitarian Law Day. The Red Cross, which assists victims of armed conflicts, is appealing to both government troops and guerrillas to spare civilians.

BALI AND MINDANAO CIVILIANS COMMUNIST AND ISLAMIC CONVENTIONS FOUR GENEVA CONVENTIONS FROM NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON GENEVA CONVENTIONS GREENBERG RESEARCH INC IN DAVAO CITY INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW DAY
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