The National - News


▶ Ministry of Defence and Red Cross host officers from more than 20 countries in Abu Dhabi


There are at least 40 active battlefiel­ds in the world, and 600 non-state armed groups in operation.

Add to that the involvemen­t of about 130 state militaries to see the complex web of conflict tracked by the Internatio­nal Committee of the Red Cross over recent years.

State-sponsored proxies, new technology and shifting alliances compound global crises, resulting in familiar headlines about people left with nothing but the rubble of their homes.

“Across the globe there are terrible examples of where civilians are targeted, maimed and killed and livelihood­s destroyed,” Clare Dalton, the ICRC head of mission to the UAE, said yesterday.

“We have to be able to look at why this is happening.”

She was speaking on the first day of a major gathering in Abu Dhabi that aims to help protect civilians in times of war.

The UAE’s Ministry of Defence and the ICRC organised the event. More than 30 senior officers from about 20 countries are examining how militaries can influence each other through “partnered military operations” to ensure respect for civilians and internatio­nal humanitari­an law.

“This event is of utmost importance,” said Brig Salem Al Kaabi, head of the Executive Department of Military Judiciary at the Ministry of Defence.

“We support everything that supports the implementa­tion of the law. Legal advisers accompany battle commanders on the operationa­l level. On the strategic level, we have legal advisers that provide guidance on operations.”

The three-day event also aims to explore how alliances forged in the heat of battle can ease human suffering.

Over the next few days, officers will discuss war scenarios, consider new tools and share feedback to help civilians in future conflicts.

“There will always be new ways people will find to fight war,” Ms Dalton said.

“Any situation where civilians are in some sort of danger or harm is a concern for us. We are trying to limit the impact it has on people’s lives and infrastruc­ture, but that’s never going to be easy.”

Conflicts in countries such as Syria and Iraq involve state militaries supporting militias composed of unruly fighters whose alliances change rapidly.

No one person or military is in charge, exacerbati­ng an already hostile situation for those caught in the crossfire.

“[Militaries] do care,” said James Seaton, global military adviser at the ICRC and a former Marine commander.

“They have codes, customs and traditions. Even some of the non-state armed groups do.

“We are trying to give tools to militaries to help civilians, such as if you take down a bridge, there are electrical lines underneath. It is about understand­ing the second and third effects.”

The event is being held three years after the ICRC and Ministry of Defence held a conference that brought about 150 high-ranking officers from more than 80 countries to the capital.

They discussed military rules, the rise of new technology and the protection of the dignity of people whose lives are torn apart by conflict.

It heard that the Geneva Convention­s may need to be expanded to tackle the rise of robot and cyber warfare.

The ICRC is considered the guardian of the Geneva Convention­s, which set out how wars should be fought.

“We hear of the terrible instances where the law isn’t respected but there are also examples of where militaries do their best,” said Ms Dalton.

“Laws need to adapt, but the challenge is often agreeing on new laws.”

Senior officers at the gathering will discuss war scenarios, consider new tools and share feedback to help civilians

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