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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsSo the ones I just mentioned are the rules which are most specific to medical personnel. But there are, of course other rules which medical health personnel should be aware of if it is involved.....if they are involved in armed conflict. The main ones of course are the ones pertaining to the rights and privileges of the categories of individuals they are supposed to care for. So the rights and privileges of wounded or sick soldiers, of prisoners of war and the civilian population, of course.

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 secondsAnd there are, of course, other rules which more generally concern humanitarian assistance activities and they should also be familiar with them because, of course, assistance brought by NGOs, medical NGOs such as Care or Medecins Sans Frontiers could also actually do qualify as humanitarian assistance. For instance it is important to stress that in both kinds of conflicts, so in international armed conflict but also in non-international armed conflicts, armed actors, so the parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to the civilians in needs. So if the civilian population has demonstrated humanitarian need, the parties to the conflict must facilitate the freedom of movement of authorized and impartial humanitarian relief personnel.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 secondsThe civilian health personnel as every relief worker actually must however also know that it has an obligation to respect the so-called security requirements of the party of the conflict on whose territory it is operating, otherwise he or she can be expelled. So they must handle in a way which is consistent with preserving and protecting those security requirements, for instance, not giving away information about the location of troops or about fortifications of minefields while carrying out their job. It is also important to say that in certain circumstances the security situation might actually prevent health personnel or relief personnel, in general, from carrying out their assistance activities.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 secondsAnd in those sort of security situation it is important that health personnel reminds the parties to the conflict that the primary responsibility to collect and assist the wounded or the sick lies with them. So it is the combatant parties who have the main responsibilities, the primary responsibility to look after individuals who are being negatively affected by the armed conflict. It is also important that humanitarian personnel are aware of certain principles of IHL - of International Humanitarian Law - which might be useful in gaining humanitarian access.

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsFor instance, health professionals should remind the counterparts that nowadays it is an established practice to hold individual members of an armed group or of an army accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. So preventing the activities of humanitarian personnel might actually amount to one of these international crimes which can be prosecuted both by national but also by international courts. They should also make, especially in the context of non-international armed conflict, armed groups aware of the fact that being seen as respecting health personnel, as respecting relief personnel, might enhance their credibility and also their legitimacy, so to say, within internal audiences or international audiences.

Skip to 4 minutes and 22 secondsOn the contrary armed groups and national armies might also be made aware of the fact that being perceived as actors which disrespect IHL can actually undermine the support they have, both internally and externally.

International humanitarian law

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) outlines the principles and provisions for the protection of the sick and wounded, prisoners of war, and civilian populations. It also considers the need to respect, and provide access to, health workers and healthcare facilities.

In this video interview, professor Emanuele Sommario explains that international humanitarian law directs how armed forces must act during violent conflicts involving health care and humanitarian assistance.

The humanitarian principles provide guidance on how healthcare workers should act, but there are many other participants (or “actors”) in the conflict around Dr Samoe’s district hospital too.

Can you think of any treaties, laws, roles, duties, or principles which non-health ‘actors’ are expected to comply with during armed conflict? (Example: do not attack a person bearing a white flag). Think back through historical violent conflicts you know about. Did any of them lead to the establishment of rules and responsibilities during wartime?

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Global Health, Conflict and Violence

University of Bergen