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The Responsibility to Respect

This year, the world celebrates the anniversaries of the Treaty of Versailles and the Geneva Conventions. Commemorating these events represents an important opportunity to recommit to upholding the rights and dignity of all people.

AMMAN – In 1859, a Swiss citizen, Henri Dunant, arrived in Solferino following a crucial battle in the Second Italian War of Independence. Dunant was so appalled by the carnage – tens of thousands of dead and wounded soldiers – that he organized a civilian initiative to help the sick and injured on both sides. Today, 160 years later, that example – and the rules, norms, and institutions that it advanced – must be reaffirmed.

Dunant’s initiative – bearing the motto Siamo tutti fratelli (we are all brothers) – sowed the seeds of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which inspired the first Geneva Convention in 1864. The subsequent Geneva Conventions constituted the basis for international humanitarian law, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) – established in 2002 and accepted by most of the world’s states – became the principal institution for enforcing it.

Yet the Geneva Conventions and the ICC are constantly being undermined, often in novel ways. In both Syria and Yemen, for example, state and non-state actors alike violate international humanitarian law, not only with alarming regularity, but also with apparent impunity. As Vincent Bernhard, Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of the Red Cross, observed, these are wars “against children, against hospitals, against first-aid workers, against memory, against justice.”

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