Pacific not immune to armed conflict

The Pacific region is not immune to armed conflict says International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) member, Mauro Arrigoni

Speaking at the 2nd Pacific Islands Roundtable on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Apia Tuesday, Arrigoni told delegates even though there are currently no armed conflicts in the Pacific region, the Bougainville conflict constituted a non-international armed conflict. 

“The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and PNG forces allied to Bougainville Resistance Forces (BRF) signed a ceasefire in 1997 and a peace agreement in 2001. The humanitarian consequences of the conflict are still felt today by the families of nearly a thousand persons who went missing. Most of them are presumed dead.

“The conflict in Solomon Islands from 1998 till 2003 when the Australian government led a multilateral Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is another example to show that not that long ago, there was a conflict in the Pacific. According to some sources, around 200 people died in the conflict largely on the main island of Guadalcanal and there were hundreds of cases of abduction and torture. The great majority of victims were innocent civilians. 

“The highlands in Papua New Guinea also experience frequent and deadly tribal fights with enormous humanitarian consequences. 

“Various islands were also affected during WWII – for example, 1,200 Nauruans were forcibly deported to the Caroline Islands to work as slave labourers. Many never returned home. Nine Pacific Islands States are still contaminated by ordinance, which has an explosive risk and an environmental effect, limiting farming, industry and tourism,” Arrigoni told regional delegates at the meeting.

Arrigoni said some of Pacific countries contribute troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions in places of armed conflict.

“Indeed, Samoa has contributed UN peacekeepers for 19 years and last month it farewelled its latest deployment, bound for South Sudan. We will of course be discussing some of the legal frameworks that apply to these kinds of deployments.

“I think it is fair to say that the causes and the consequences of armed conflicts and other situations of violence around the world are becoming increasingly complex and far-reaching. These conflicts are often protracted and have regional or even wider repercussions -­ Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan, to name but a few – and the humanitarian consequences are immense,” he said. 

He emphasised the need for a special focus on IHL and its relevant in today’s armed conflicts.

“From a humanitarian perspective, the answer is an emphatic “yes!” In many of the armed conflicts where the ICRC is present, an overriding challenge continues to be the lack of respect, by States and non-State armed groups, for even the most fundamental rules of IHL. We see widespread violations of IHL, and these often go unpunished. We see direct attacks against civilians and key infrastructure including hospitals and schools, and we see the delivery of humanitarian access being blocked – this is obviously against fundamental rules that all States, including all those in the Pacific, have agreed to in the Geneva Conventions. 

“Indeed, based on our observations on battlefields across the world, we can say that the problem is not the law, or a lack of law, but rather the lack of compliance with the law. As you would know, the kinds of violations that I have mentioned are already prohibited by IHL. So, increasing respect for IHL and for the principle of humanity is perhaps the single most effective way to reduce suffering in war," said Arrigoni.

Arrigoni also stressed the importance for ICRC to actively promote compliance with International Humanitarian Law

“At every opportunity – whether it be in our public communications or in the discussions we have with heads of state – we highlight the importance of respecting the key principles that govern how violence is conducted in armed conflicts. I am sure you have heard of some of these principles: distinction, proportionality, precautions in attack, and the prohibition against unnecessary suffering. We also stress the importance of humane treatment for people deprived of their liberty; We advocate for a halt to the use of illegal weapons and the illegal use of weapons; And in general, we call for the protection of people who are not taking part in the conflict. 

Your presence here today indicates a highly encouraging and positive interest in making this a reality. Everyone here has a stake – an interest – in promoting respect for IHL globally. None of us are fully immune to the consequences of a failure to do so, even in the absence of active armed conflict in this region,” Arrigoni said..


Photo by PACNEWS