ECOWAS Validates International Humanitarian Law Plan of Action

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A four-day ECOWAS-ICRC Annual Review Meeting of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in West Africa took place from October 30 to November 2, 2018 at the Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria. Representatives from Member States and Experts reviewed and validated the ECOWAS five years IHL Plan of Action 2019-2023.

The ECOWAS Plan of Action focused on 10 key thematic areas, including migrants and internally displaced persons, arms control, children, sexual violence, and counter-terrorism. Others include use of force in law enforcement, protection of healthcare and the Red Cross emblems, penal repression of IHL violations, national IHL committees, and dissemination of IHL.

“Member States are to sign, ratify or access the most relevant IHL treaties and enact specific legislative and regulatory measures to prevent and criminalize misuse of the Red Cross emblems as set out in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols,” says Benoni Knuckles, Commissioner of the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms, and head of the Liberia delegation. “ States are to ensure legislation, procedures and policies relating to the protection, safety, and dignity of migrants and internally displaced persons and establish or reactive National IHL Committees that would advise and assist governments in implementing and spreading knowledge of IHL.”

IHL is a body of international laws, conventions and/or treaties that seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not, or who are no longer taking part in hostilities; it also restricts the means and methods of warfare. The main treaties are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their three Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005.

Commissioner Knuckles said that the Liberia IHL Committee (LIHLC) is Chaired by Counselor Deweh Gray, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs – Legal, and Co-chaired by the Law Reform Commission and the Ministry of Justice. He added that the LIHLC is currently working on domestication of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol, the Kampala Convention, and the Arms Trade Treaty with focus on establishing legal frameworks. The LIHLC is finalizing the draft National Geneva Conventions Act, the National Internally Displaced Persons Act, the Liberia Arms Trade and Transfer Act of 2019, and an Amendment to the Act that Created the Small Arms Commission for submission to the National Legislature for domestication.

The Liberia delegation was sponsored by the ICRC office in Liberia. Mr. Charles Garmodeh Kpan, Sr. is the head of the ICRC office in Liberia. Mr. Kpan said that ICRC’s collaboration with the Liberia IHL Committee has led to the conduct of three stakeholders’ roundtable discussions and a series of technical meetings that have resulted in the drafting of three key IHL instruments – Geneva Conventions, Kampala Convention and Arms Trade Treaty relevant to the protection of the civilian population for enactment into law. “It is important for treaties to be implemented by States, not only through ratification or accession, but also through domestication to ensure that the laws, rules and regulations are applicable.”

The 15th Annual IHL Review Meeting brought together 14 ECOWAS Member States, including Liberia. Participants assessed progress made by national IHL Committees in implementing IHL instruments ratified by respective countries and the challenges they faced.

Since 2001, the ICRC and ECOWAS have been working together in West Africa to ensure domestication of IHLs that Member States are party and promote respect for IHLs amongst all sectors of Liberian society.

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