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International Humanitarian Law: Protecting Civilians in Conflict — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 9:30 am, 18th June 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the continued importance of international humanitarian law in protecting civilians in conflict.

I am pleased to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I applied for this debate to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva conventions and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council first putting the protection of civilians in armed conflict on its agenda. The UK is the penholder at the Security Council for that mandate.

This debate allows us to convey appreciation for what has been and is being done to protect civilians by a wide range of actors that adhere to international humanitarian law—which I will now abbreviate to IHL—and to interpret its provisions to prioritise civilian protection in armed conflicts. It also provides us with an important opportunity to highlight the terrible price that civilians continue to pay in such conflicts the world over, and to suggest what should be done—what must be done—including by the UK Government, to alleviate their suffering.

IHL, as detailed in the 1949 Geneva conventions, sets out the specific protection that civilians are entitled to in armed conflict. IHL requires that parties to a conflict must distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians, and must direct attacks only against combatants and other military objects. Constant care must be taken to spare civilians and civilian objects, such as schools, hospitals, and water treatment and sanitation facilities, from the effects of the fighting. IHL also calls on parties to authorise impartial humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the conflict. In addition, a number of key human rights such as the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life, or the prohibition of torture and slavery, cannot ever be suspended.