The 5th Commonwealth Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) was a commemoration of 70 years of the Geneva Conventions as much as a forum to deliberate on building respect for IHL. At a time when the international community and humanitarian actors are struggling to meet the overwhelming needs arising from emergencies around the world, the conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, in June brought together a range of perspectives on IHL, the challenges it faces and its growing relevance today.

When IHL is respected, harm to civilians is drastically reduced. The Geneva Conventions are a vital global pledge born out of the kind of suffering we see today in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan, among other conflicts around the world. In 1949, in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, the Conventions were universally agreed upon by States because they reflect universal values of ethical behaviour. Seventy years on, they remain as necessary and life-saving as they were intended to be.

Two of the ICRC New Delhi regional delegation’s close partners — Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) and the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO) — were also represented at the forum. The delegates shared their views on the Geneva Conventions and why they matter. Prof. Dr. Kennedy Gastorn, Secretary General of AALCO, highlighted the reasons that led to the formulation of the Geneva Conventions and underlined the significance of IHL. Mr. NK Singh, Deputy Secretary of the IRCS, emphasised on the need to introduce this subject in mainstream school education for wider acceptance and understanding of IHL norms across disciplines.

Participants at the conference included representatives of government, armed forces, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as well as legal experts from the Commonwealth nations.