12 February 2013

Africa: Combatting War Crimes

press release

The Commonwealth is working with its members in Africa on improving accountability and adherence to International Humanitarian Law

Even in times of war and conflict, countries are governed by international laws to minimise the suffering of civilians and those no longer taking part in hostilities.

A protected person includes the wounded or sick combatants, prisoners of war and civilians.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) regulates the conduct of parties in international and internal armed conflicts and restricts the means and methods of warfare. Governments and parties to these treaties have an obligation to punish those responsible for what are known as “grave breaches” of IHL or war crimes, including rape and the wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment of a protected person.

The Commonwealth is working to improve compliance with IHL among its member states to prevent and put an end to violations of IHL.

This week the Secretariat, in collaboration with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL), is meeting with Commonwealth African countries to discuss IHL, Human Rights and International Criminal Justice.

The symposium in Pretoria, South Africa, will promote practical and theoretical awareness of IHL and the ratification and implementation of key IHL instruments, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Professor Fausto Pocar, Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and President of the IIHL, will speak at the symposium.

Margaret Bruce, Commonwealth Secretariat coordinator of the training programme, said: "Many Commonwealth states do not have the legislation needed to implement their obligations arising from IHL conventions. One of the consequences of lack of legislation is the inability of states to effectively punish or deter the commission of grave breaches of IHL."

Participants from ministries of justice and foreign affairs, members of national IHL committees and military personnel from Botswana, Kenya, Maldives, Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and South Africa will exchange ideas and strategies on improving accountability and adherence to IHL.

The Secretariat has provided support to member countries on IHL, including model legislation, capacity building for officials and technical assistance.

These are aimed at supporting countries to improve their accountability as well as strengthen international criminal justice, contributing to peace and security and enhanced development in Commonwealth countries.

Following the symposium the Secretariat will continue to encourage collaboration, co-operation and sustainability on IHL through Commonwealth Connects, a digital platform for professional networking and collaboration.

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