ECOWAS Deliberate on IHL in Monrovia

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Regional participants at the Peer-to-Peer Exchange Meeting on IHL in Monrovia in a group photo.

Global human rights campaigners and Activists, especially those against violent conflicts, have turned their focus to Liberia this week as delegates from English-speaking countries in West Africa convene in Monrovia to deliberate on the prospects and challenges of the domestication and implementation of International Humanitarian Laws (IHL).

The two-day event, which opened Monday, October 28, is known as Peer-to-Peer Exchange Meeting of Active National Committees from across the region. It is being held under the auspices of the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) and the Liberian IHL Committee, with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Liberia Office.

The exchange meeting, according to organizers, focuses on practical guidance towards Active National IHL Committees in Commonwealth and English-Speaking Nations of West Africa. It is also meant to broaden awareness of this important body of law. IHL is the body of rules applicable in situations of armed conflict. The IHL treaties most commonly referred to are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, although IHL encompasses a range of other international treaties. The ICRC is the prime promoter and guardian of IHL.

The Chairperson of Liberia’s IHL Committee, Cllr. Deweh Gray, said that the meeting is meant for the exchange of knowledge and experiences. “We want to see what others are doing in their countries and prioritize the best practices,” she said. Cllr. Gray, who is also Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the domestication of the Geneva Conventions is currently high on her committee’s agenda.

She called on participants to be open-minded and share experiences from which others can learn.

LNRCS president, Jerome Clarke, said implementing IHL in West Africa is a cause that everyone must uphold for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict and experience a world which is more humane.

The objective of the exchange meeting, he noted, is not only to discuss National IHL Committee mandate, composition, establishing instrument, but also to insist on their functioning, resources and working procedure to push forward the implementation of IHL priorities, funding from a more pragmatic perspective.

“Therefore, moving forward, we must take steps and act together in domesticating and integrating IHL treaties, as well as considering other stronger measures to promote and disseminate IHL across the West African Region,” he said.

It is no secret that IHL has in recent years come to the forefront of public interest and debate. In addition, many rules of IHL bind parties to armed conflicts, even where treaties do not directly apply. These rules of customary international law have been derived primarily from the practice and opinions of states over time.

In November 2018, a West African IHL Plan of Action was validated by experts from 14 countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This significant step reiterated the region’s dedication towards ensuring respect for IHL and humanitarian principles.

The Plan of Action, developed by ECOWAS Commission and Member States, in conjunction with ICRC, is to facilitate concrete and measurable IHL implementation in the region.

Participants comfortably seated at the opening of the IHL meeting

It focuses on thematic areas most relevant to the region including: counter-terrorism, protection of children, migrants, and IDPs, sexual violence in armed conflict, weapons, and dissemination of IHL, among others.

Since 2001, the ICRC and the ECOWAS Commission have collaborated on implementation of IHL in ECOWAS Member States, and this annual meeting has served as an important platform for convening Member States, Mr. Clarke said.

“IHL today remains unchanging, relevant and uncompromising; therefore, we must push forward IHL priorities in the West African Region. We must consolidate efforts and resources, cooperate and plan better in sharing experiences and promoting best practices toward better national implementation of IHL,” he noted.

He appreciated the ICRC for working with ECOWAS to create such a platform for Member States to network and exchange views and experiences on contemporary IHL issues of concern.

In Liberia, the Red Cross is stepping up to the ICRC in providing training and awareness on IHL to the Armed Forces of Liberia, the police and other security agencies. “While Liberia no longer experiencing armed conflict, it is expedient to work together with the army to ensure full compliance with the IHL, especially at the time the country is contributing to the UN Peace Keeping Mission in Mali,” Mr. Clarke said.

The LNRCS president said Liberia has made significant progress toward the domestication process.

“A bill has been drafted and ready for submission before the Liberian legislature for enactment into law. And there has been a promised strong legislative backing on the speedy domestication of the Convention as two of our most influential members of parliament have pledged their unflinching support to the domestication of the Geneva Conventions,” he added.

Senators Conmany Wesseh and Steven Zargo of River Gee and Lofa Counties promised to collaborate with the Red Cross and its partners in ensuring that areas where legislative actions are needed in the domestication and implementation of the IHL are addressed.

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