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The Gaza Catastrophe and International Humanitarian Law

After the devasting effects of the Russia-Ukraine war which escalated in 2022, the world again is witnessing a challenging situation as what started as a land dispute a long ago has now taken shape of ethnicity dispute with many busy counting the number of lives lost in the war.

The cowardly multifaceted attack by terrorist group Hamas which took lives of hundreds of innocents in Israel has now challenged and provoked one of world's most advanced nations Israel and its entire defence and intelligence system which used to wear the crown of being undefeated and has now come into questions with many also raising concerns over the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad's failure to anticipate the attack.

In the response to above the Israel has officially declared a state of war, called the attack as their 9/11, compared the Hamas with terrorist group ISIS and to show the repercussions like never before and to be remembered for decades to come.

While we don't know what Hamas was to achieve with this but one thing it has been able to is putting the lives of millions of innocent Gaza residents at stake when they already have got many a other problems to deal with viz. food, electricity, education, infrastructure etc.

The media around the world is busy covering the bombardment footages of Gaza and Israel with many busy setting up their studios a war zone covering debates of so called intellectuals.

But neither the media nor any prominent personality or a country is asking the inevitable questions that What will happen to around 2 million people in Gaza? / Where will they go? and Who's going to take their responsibility?

The answer to above questions is still not clear with UN expressing its disappointment with Israel calling complete seizure of Gaza and shutting down supplies of basic necessities like food and electricity.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL)
As it is said that wars are fought with rules and certainly there are international rules of war which should at all times be respected and followed when the war between two nations escalates with probability of humanitarian crises.

The International Humanitarian Law was made with the objective to prevent and reduce the damage in a war and also to protect the civilian and their objects before and during a war.

The IHL was made the on the core principles as hereinafter mentioned and which are complementary to each other:
  • Principle of Distinction:
    It requires to distinguish between the civilians and the combatants and also between the civilian objects and military objectives. The attack against the military and their objects is not prohibited, and on the other hand the civilian and civilian objects should not be attacked. However, it means that direct attack on the civilians or their objects are prohibited.
  • Principle of Proportionality:
    It requires that military attacks are prohibited if they are expected to cause loss or injury of civilian life or to their objects or combination of these if it would be more than the expected military advantage.
  • Principle of Precautions:
    It requires to spare the civilian population, their objects and firm efforts to identify that the targets are possibly military objectives. It also requires to give an advance warning of attacks which could affect the civilians unless it is not possible to do.
Keeping in view the above principles, the nations across the world in 1949 after World War II signed the Geneva Convention to establish the international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in war.

It establishes 4 conventions where:
  • The First Convention is for the "Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field
  • The Second Convention is for the "Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea"
  • The Third Convention is for the "Treatment of Prisoners of War"
  • The Fourth Convention is for the "Protection of Civilian Persons in the Time of War"
The above four Conventions have been ratified by 196 nations across the world which also includes Israel (1951) and the State of Palestine (2014).

Amongst the other the fourth Convention is the major one applicable in the present scenario in Gaza and which provides for protections such as:
  • Humanely treatment without any discrimination on the specified grounds of persons not taking active part in the war.
  • Rights of fair and regular trial, as prescribed by Convention, to an individual protected person detained as a spy or saboteur or any other specified grounds.
  • Taking measures for treatment of wounded and sick.
  • Prohibition on punishment to protected persons for any offense which he or she has not personally committed.

It can clearly be said that all the above conventions clearly prohibit targeted killings of civilians and those who are not taking part in the war.

The Conventions also emphasizes on keeping the humanity and calls for protection of basic rights of civilians even in the event of war.

As Israel has also ratified the Geneva Convention, it is also bound by the provisions of the Convention in a war and that is the reason that Israel has been saying that they are targeting the Hamas' locations in Gaza and not the civilian locations because same is against the principles of IHL and of Geneva Convention, however so far cornering all the provisions and commitments the Israel is ready for invasion of Gaza which if happens so will ultimately be fatal to both sides.

In this critical situation between the two countries there has come out another serious crisis of food, water, electricity in Gaza as Israel has called out for a total blockade of Gaza and has stopped supplies of necessities with millions in Gaza now starving for the basics.

The civilians in Gaza are now taking a shelter in the UN run camps with so far no strong possibility of international aid, the healthcare system of Gaza is on the verge of collapse whereas the Geneva Convention provides for treatment of wounded and sick

The above situation has also put up serious questions on the international communities' stance towards the crisis in Gaza.

It is high time that international community should come forward for the people of Gaza and ensure that no innocent civilian is harmed who has got nothing to do with the situation that has arised.

Sources and Credits:
  • International Committee of the Red Cross' YouTube channel and the information available thereon
  • (the official website of the UN Human Rights Office)

Written By: Manish Dulani is a 2nd year LL.B. student at the University Law College - II, University of Rajasthan, and an active writer on diverse topics of law which among the others include commercial, corporate, general and personal laws at various platforms of repute and can be reached out at [email protected].

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