Macedonian Red Cross and International Humanitarian Law

The implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL) as a segment of international law which unites the international legal instruments, applicable in cases of armed conflicts in order to limit the consequences is an issue that the international community and countries pay special attention.
International humanitarian law is a legal and statutory obligation of the Macedonian National society for its dissemination, promotion, implementation and promotion. Macedonia Red Cross, as an National Society and full member of the International Movement of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is implementing its activities in the area of dissemination, starting from the corpus of international instruments on basis of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 and the basic documents of the national society like the Law and the Statute of the Red Cross.

1. What is International Humanitarian Law?

International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

International humanitarian law is part of international law, which is the body of rules governing relations between States. International law is contained in agreements between States – treaties or conventions –, in customary rules, which consist of State practise considered by them as legally binding, and in general principles.

International humanitarian law applies to armed conflicts. It does not regulate whether a State may actually use force; this is governed by an important, but distinct, part of international law set out in the United Nations Charter.

2. Where did international humanitarian law originate?
МХП се применува единствено при вооружени конфликти; не покрива внатрешни тензии или немири, како на пример, изолирани акти на насилство. Правото се применува само откако конфликтот отпочнал, и тоа подеднакво кон сите страни, без оглед на тоа кој прв ја почнал борбата. МХП врши јасна дистинкција помеѓу меѓународен и не-меѓународен вооружен конфликт. Меѓународен вооружен конфликт претставува оној вооружен конфликт во кој најмалку две држави се инволвирани. Тие се предмет на широк опсег на правна регулација, вклучувајќи ги и правилата опфатени во четирите Женевски конвенции и Дополнителниот Не-меѓународен вооружен конфликт претставува оној вооружен конфликт кој е ограничен на територијата на една држава, во кој се инволвирани или регуларни вооружени сили кои се борат против групи на вооружени дисиденти, или вооружени групи кои се борат меѓу себе. Многу полимитиран опсег од правила се применуваат при внатрешни вооружени конфликти и истите ја имаат својата основа во членот 3 кој што е заеднички за сите четири Женевски конвенции, како и Многу е битно да се врши диференцијација помеѓу Меѓународното хуманитарно право и Законот за човекови права. Иако одреден дел од правните правила и норми им се слични, овие две законски и правни гранки се развивале подеинечно и се содржат во различни договори и спогодби. Поконкретно, Законот за човекови права- за разлика од МХП- се применува во мирновремени услови, а многу од неговите норми можат да бидат суспендирани за време на вооружен конфликт.
3. Where is international humanitarian law to be found?
        A major part of international humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Nearly every State in the world has agreed to be bound by them. The Conventions have been developed and supplemented by two further agreements: the Additional Protocols of 1977 relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts. Other agreements prohibit the use of certain weapons and military tactics and protect certain categories of people and goods. These agreements include:
  • The 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, plus its two protocols;
  • The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention;
  • The 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention and its five protocols;
  • The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention;
  • The 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines;
  • The 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Many provisions of international humanitarian law are now accepted as customary law – that is, as general rules by which all States are bound.
4. When does international humanitarian law apply?
International humanitarian law applies only to armed conflict; it does not cover internal tensions or disturbances such as isolated acts of violence. The law applies only once a conflict has begun, and then equally to all sides regardless of who started the fighting.
International humanitarian law distinguishes between international and non-international armed conflict. International armed conflicts are those in which at least two States are involved. They are subject to a wide range of rules, including those set out in the four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I.
Non-international armed conflicts are those restricted to the territory of a single State, involving either regular armed forces fighting groups of armed dissidents, or armed groups fighting each other. A more limited range of rules apply to internal armed conflicts and are laid down in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions as well as in Additional Protocol II.
It is important to differentiate between international humanitarian law and human rights law. While some of their rules are similar, these two bodies of law have developed separately and are contained in different treaties. In particular, human rights law – unlike international humanitarian law – applies in peacetime, and many of its provisions may be suspended during an armed conflict.
5. What does international humanitarian law cover?
International humanitarian law covers two areas:
  • The protection of those who are not, or no longer, taking part in fighting;
  •  Restrictions on the means of warfare – in particular weapons – and the methods of warfare, such as military tactics.
6. What is “protection”?
International humanitarian law protects those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious military personnel. It also protects those who have ceased to take part, such as wounded, shipwrecked and sick combatants, and prisoners of war.
These categories of person are entitled to respect for their lives and for their physical and mental integrity. They also enjoy legal guarantees. They must be protected and treated humanely in all circumstances, with no adverse distinction.
More specifically: it is forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who surrenders or is unable to fight; the sick and wounded must be collected and cared for by the party in whose power they find themselves. Medical personnel, supplies, hospitals and ambulances must all be protected.
There are also detailed rules governing the conditions of detention for prisoners of war and the way in which civilians are to be treated when under the authority of an enemy power. This includes the provision of food, shelter and medical care, and the right to exchange messages with their families.
The law sets out a number of clearly recognizable symbols which can be used to identify protected people, places and objects. The main emblems are the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the symbols identifying cultural property and civil defence facilities.
7. What restrictions are there on weapons and tactics?
International humanitarian law prohibits all means and methods of warfare which:

  • Fail to discriminate between those taking part in the fighting and those, such as civilians, who are not, the purpose being to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian property;
  • Cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering;
  • Cause severe or long-term damage to the environment.

Humanitarian law has therefore banned the use of many weapons, including exploding bullets, chemical and biological weapons, blinding laser weapons and anti-personnel mines.

8. Is international humanitarian law actually complied with?
Sadly, there are countless examples of violation of international humanitarian law. Increasingly, the victims of war are civilians.
However, there are important cases where international humanitarian law has made a difference in protecting civilians, prisoners, the sick and the wounded, and in restricting the use of barbaric weapons.
Given that this body of law applies during times of extreme violence, implementing the law will always be a matter of great difficulty. That said, striving for effective compliance remains as urgent as ever.
9. What should be done to implement the law?
Measures must be taken to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. States have an obligation to teach its rules to their armed forces and the general public.
They must prevent violations or punish them if these nevertheless occur. In particular, they must enact laws to punish the most serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, which are regarded as war crimes. The States must also pass laws protecting the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems.
Measures have also been taken at an international level: tribunals have been created to punish acts committed in two recent conflicts (the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda). An international criminal court, with the responsibility of repressing inter alia war crimes, was created by the 1998 Rome Statute.
Whether as individuals or through governments and various organizations, we can all make an important contribution to compliance with international humanitarian law.
10. Short History of the International Humanitarian Law

“This leads to awareness that humanitarian principles are common to all human communities wherever they may be. When different customs, ethics and philosophies are gathered for comparison, and when they are melted down, their particularities eliminated and only what is general extracted, one is left with a pure substance which is the heritage of all mankind”. Jean Pictet, International Dimensions of Humanitarian Law, Signature of the Geneva Convention of 22 August 1864 The idea that mankind must be protected against the scourge of war can be found among all the peoples of Antiquity. It was only in the nineteenth century, however, that considerable efforts were undertaken to make war more humane. The decisive events were the creation of the ICRC in February 1863 and the signature, in August 1864, of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, which signalled the birth of international humanitarian law.

11. Treaties and customary international humanitarian law
Treaty law and customary international humanitarian law are the main sources of humanitarian law. Unlike treaty law (for ex: the four Geneva Conventions), customary international law is not written.


A rule is customary if it reflects state practice and when there exists a conviction in the international community that such practice is required as a matter of law. While treaties only bind those States which have ratified them, customary law norms are binding on all States. The four Geneva Conventions of 1949, their two Additional Protocols of 1977 and Additional Protocol III of 2005 are the principal instruments of humanitarian law.

12. Protected persons and property and international humanitarian law
Under international humanitarian law, protected persons are those to whom a particular humanitarian treaty applies, that is, who are covered by the protective rules laid down in that treaty and thus enjoy certain rights when they are in the power of the enemy. In a broader sense, protected persons are those who benefit in wartime from treaty-based or customary humanitarian law. In particular, protected persons are the wounded, the sick, the shipwrecked, prisoners of war and other persons deprived of their freedom in relation to conflict, civilians and other persons not or no longer taking part in the fighting, medical and religious personnel, the staff of relief operations, the staff of civil defence organizations and mediators. In the event of armed conflict, there are also protected objects. These include cultural property and all other civilian objects as well as military medical facilities and ambulances.
13. Civilians in the power of the enemy and international humanitarian law

Civilians are entitled to protection when, as the result of an international armed conflict or of occupation, they find themselves in the hands of a party of which they are not nationals. See the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, in particular Article 4.

14. Prisoners of war and humanitarian law
A prisoner of war is a combatant, generally a member of the armed forces of a party to an international armed conflict or an individual enjoying equivalent legal status, who has fallen into the hands of an adverse party.


Individuals enjoying equivalent status include war correspondents, supply contractors, merchant marine and civil aircraft crews, and civilians who spontaneously take up arms to resist invading forces (Art. 4, Third Geneva Convention of 1949). In case of doubt, any person who takes part in hostilities is presumed to be a prisoner of war (Art. 45.1, Additional Protocol I of 1977). Third Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the treatment of prisoners of war.

15. Wounded, sick and shipwrecked and international humanitarian law

In 1859 Swiss-banker Henri Dunant witnessed the terrible reality of wounded soldiers who remained without assistance at the Solferino battlefield. His initiative to ensure protection for the wounded and sick was soon followed by the signing of the Geneva Convention of 1864. In the course of history that protection was continually refined. It became a detailed legal regime with the adoption of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977. The first Geneva Convention concerns the wounded and sick, the second extends the protection to the shipwrecked. These treaties specify that the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked must be protected and respected as long as they refrain from fighting. In addition, those who provide assistance should not be prevented from fulfilling their task.


16. Medical and religious personnel, medical units, transports and material

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 provide for the protection not only of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked themselves, but also of the people who look after their physical and spiritual needs – medical personnel, administrative support staff and religious personnel [GCI art. 24, 25 ; GCII art. 36, 37; API art. 8 (c)-(d)], who are not to be attacked and must be allowed to fulfil their medical or religious duties [GCI art. 24-27; GCII art. 36, 37; API art. 15-20; APII art. 9, 10]. International humanitarian law also establishes a comprehensive and detailed protection for medical units, transports and material [GCI art. 19-23, 33-37; GCII arts. 22-27, 34, 38-40; GCIV arts. 18, 21-22; API art. 8 (e)-(j), 12-14, 21, 22; APII art. 11].

17. Protecting humanitarian workers and international humanitarian law
Humanitarian workers often work in places where security is a serious concern. This is especially so in countries where an armed conflict is ongoing. For members of humanitarian organisations, the general principle regarding the protection of civilians is strengthened by other specific rules of international humanitarian law.
18. Protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict
Under the law of armed conflict, cultural property is protected against any act of hostility (destruction, theft, requisition, confiscation, acts of reprisal, etc.). In addition, the use of cultural property in support of military action is prohibited (Article 53 of Additional Protocol I and Article 16 of Additional Protocol II). The distinctive emblem provided for in Article 6 of the Hague Convention of 14 May 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict may be displayed on cultural property.
The 1954 Hague Convention provides for an elaborate system of protection. It is supplemented by two protocols adopted in 1954 and 1999. Cultural property within the meaning of this convention is defined in its first article.
19. Civil defense and international humanitarian law
Civil defence is in charge of relief operations on behalf of the civilian population in the event of natural or technological disasters or armed conflict. Its goal is to minimize loss of life and damage to civilian property. In addition, it aims to help the civilian population recover from the immediate effects of disasters or hostilities and to provide the conditions necessary for its survival.
See Articles 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66 and 67 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions.
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