When world leaders meet in Turkey for the world humanitarian summit next month, a crucial issue on the agenda will be how to strengthen respect for the law of war.
This is something the world desperately needs.
Given the stream of images flashing across our smartphones or TV screens – of hospitals bombed, populations besieged or millions uprooted from their homes – it is not surprising that many people question whether the laws governing armed conflict work at all.
I share the frustration lying at the heart of that question. It’s not possible to be confronted with the endless horrors people endure in places like Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan without a sense of outrage. And it’s an easy step from there to be cynical about whether the basic human values enshrined in the Geneva conventions are still intact and able to provide the protection they promise. Furthermore, the complexity of modern conflict, with increased extremism and wars without borders, adds challenges.
However, if we dig just a little deeper we will actually find that the law of war is in fine shape.
This law, like any law, won’t stop all suffering. This may sound counter-intuitive. But importantly, the law has never been stronger or better known by the public and the outrage expressed when it is breached has never been greater. So although it may be tempting to say the Geneva conventions don’t work, that would be a fallacy.