Forum places focus on international humanitarian law

CONFLICTED: During the conference, Ma Ying-jeou said that a Taiwan-China war would not be considered to be an 'international conflict'

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 2

Experts on international law from various countries gathered in Taipei yesterday for a conference on international humanitarian law (IHL) and the challenges it faces.

IHL is not an actual law, but rather a set of rules governing armed conflicts drawn from customary practices and formal conventions agreed upon by states, said Umesh Kadam, a regional adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kuala Lumpur.

"The fundamental rules of IHL include ensuring humane treatment to persons not taking part in hostilities and collecting and caring for the wounded and sick -- even if those wounded were your enemy," Kadam said at a forum hosted by Taiwan's Red Cross Society and the ICRC.


"Most importantly, care must be taken in distinguishing between combatants and civilians and making sure that only military targets are attacked," he said.

The means and methods employed in warfare are also limited by IHL, Kadam said.

"Weapons that may cause unnecessary suffering and are incapable of distinguishing between military and civilian targets are prohibited," Kadman said.

Some participants at the forum raised questions about the applicability of IHL.


One of the challenges that IHL faces, Kadam said, is ensuring that non-state combatants such as terrorists follow its guidelines.

"It's the greatest challenge at this time," Kadam said.

At the forum, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) gave an example of a "customary practice" that later become part of IHL.

"In China, we also have a rule of war -- when two states are at odds, they should not kill each other's envoys," he said.


Ma also said that because of the "special and unique status of Taiwan ... conflict between mainland China and Taiwan would of course not be considered an international conflict."

In response, Harry Roque, an international law professor at University of the Philippines, said IHL "excludes internal disturbances, tensions, riots, isolated and armed violence and other acts of violence," but would apply to "the use of force between armed forces of a state and a dissident armed group under responsible command [that] exercises control over a part of a territory, is able to carry out sustained and concerted military occupation and has the ability to implement IHL."