Compliance of Armed Forces with International Humanitarian Law

The protracted war against ISIS is stretching the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to the limits of its capabilities. Backed by international coalition partners, the Peshmerga has risen to the challenge of containing ISIS and continues to confront them on the battlefield every day. War brings out the worst in people. It reveals the ugly face of humanity. The principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)– or the Laws of War – are intended to prevent the worst forms of violence by imposing rules on the conduct of hostilities during times of war.

As many as 196 countries acknowledge the legitimacy of IHL and are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. Despite this, full compliance is never guaranteed and a growing number of conflicts involve non-state actors unable to sign up to the agreements. This does not necessarily mean however that non-state actors are less willing or committed to adhere to the principles of IHL: “We are educated in human rights; it is the foundation of the Peshmerga. It is why we hold guns and call ourselves Peshmerga,” according to one official at a roundtable convening hosted in partnership by the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) and Geneva Call in early February.

The recent seminar, organised by MERI and Geneva Call, is the first in a series of five to six roundtables aimed at engaging major stakeholders including the Ministry of Peshmerga, international coalition members and international non-governmental and/or intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), in constructive dialogue surrounding the conduct of hostilities by armed forces in the region. Accordingly, this seminar focused on ascertaining preliminary steps towards identifying possible measures needed to ensure full compliance with IHL.

Click to download MERI’s Policy Paper in English and Arabic.


The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent views of MERI.

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