European Humanitarian Forum

Ministerial Session – Improving compliance with international humanitarian law to safeguard the humanitarian space

European Humanitarian Forum, 21 March 2022, 17:45-19:00

Intervention of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore


Minister Le Drian, Commissioner Lernačič, Ministers. I want to thank the French Presidency and the European Commission for organising this important and timely event.

I have just returned from Prezmyśl and Medyka in Poland on the Ukrainian border, where I have witnessed on the faces of Ukrainian refugees the pain of the violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) being perpetrated by the Russian aggression.

Unfortunately, Ukraine is not the only IHL crisis we are facing. We are experiencing an avalanche of crises, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, the Sahel, Syria and Yemen and other conflict-affected areas in the world.

Respect for international humanitarian law is essential to save lives and uphold human dignity in all armed conflicts.

We all need to do more to ensure respect for IHL. Let me suggest three aspects for which we should give attention:

First of all, holding perpetrators accountable is essential to deter future violations, to promote respect for the law, and of course to provide avenues of redress for the victims. To fight impunity, we need monitoring and systematic documentation of violations as well as national implementation of IHL.

Secondly, we should better leverage our political and economic weight to promote IHL compliance. We should consistently condemn violations, step up advocacy efforts in support of protection of civilians and IHL, use platforms at which we are a leading voice, and continue to provide training in IHL.

Thirdly, we could learn from and make better use of positive examples of compliance with IHL. What prompts the party to an armed conflict to act in accordance with IHL or not? Understanding the motivations can helps us improve respect for the rules of war. The ICRC’s initiative IHL in Action is very interesting in this regard.

People caught up in war deserve concrete actions that protect their lives and dignity.

It has to be made clear to all that the rules of war are not optional, but an obligation.

Thank you!