x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

War crimes laws need clarifying, says Swiss think tank

Armed conflicts killed at least 95,000 people and wounded hundreds of thousands more last year but few of them led to any punishment for war crimes because the laws are unclear, a Swiss think tank says.

GENEVA // Armed conflicts killed at least 95,000 people and wounded hundreds of thousands more last year but few of them led to any punishment for war crimes because the laws are unclear, a Swiss think tank said yesterday.

In a new analysis aimed at clearing the way for more war crimes prosecutions, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law determined there were at least 38 armed conflicts in 24 nations and territories in 2012, including Syria’s civil war.

The findings are important because war crimes are committed– and the perpetrators can be held accountable – only in connection with recognisable armed conflicts.

Academics who conducted the research say there was little justice because of lack of agreement or confusion over what qualifies as an armed conflict under international humanitarian law such as the Geneva Conventions.

“It is not always clear when a situation is an armed conflict, and hence when war crimes can be prosecuted,” said Andrew Clapham, an international law professor who directs the academy.

About 55,000 people were killed in Syria last year, the academy said. The next highest casualties were in Mexico, with 9,000, and Afghanistan, with 7,500.

Countries including Turkey, Mexico and Thailand do not recognise armed conflicts on their territory, the study said. But there were a few instances in which the law prevailed last year, such as when Britain and the United States prosecuted troops for war crimes in Afghanistan.

The analysis found only one international armed conflict last year – between Sudan and South Sudan – but said it could be argued that the conflict between the United States and Pakistan over drones would qualify as a second one.

Nine of the armed conflicts, the analysis said, involved continuing military occupations: in Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Eritrea, Georgia, Lebanon, Moldova, Palestine, Syria and Western Sahara.

But most of them – 27 armed conflicts in 24 nations and territories – were “non-international” because they involved the governments and armed groups within their borders.

* Associated Press