Civil Military Integration, the 4th Convention and R2P

In this posting I will try to disturb two birds with one stone without myself committing any mass atrocities. First bird is civil-military relations. The second bird is civil-military integration in the midst of an intervention to halt a mass atrocity under the auspices of Responsibility to Protect (R2P.)

I was working on a presentation about civil-military coordination specific to “organizations of a non-military character” (ICRC, NGOs) to be given to War College students, some of whom may have little knowledge of these organizations. In the “why this is important” portion of the brief I drew heavily from the 4th Geneva Convention, (relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) and Principles of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes. (See links at right.)

Paragraph 5 of Annex I, Recommendations to the governments of disaster affected countries of The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief states that “In the event of armed conflict, relief actions are governed by the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law.”

Assuming those relevant provision of international humanitarian law are found in Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949, these provisions may come as a surprise to many military and civilian actors in non-permissive environments and may contradict current guidelines about relations between military and civilian actors.

Case in point, the “Guidelines for Relations Between U.S. Armed Forces and Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations in Hostile or Potentially Hostile Environments,” which bares the logos of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the Department of Defense, and the American Council for Voluntary International Action (InterAction), a (link at right) states that: “U.S. Armed Forces personnel and units should avoid interfering with NGHO relief efforts directed toward segments of the civilian population that the military may regard as unfriendly” and “U.S. Armed Forces personnel and units should respect the desire of NGHOs not to serve as implementing partners for the military in conducting relief activities. However, individual NGOs may seek to cooperate with the military, in which case such cooperation will be carried out with due regard to avoid¬ing compromise of the security, safety, and independence of the NGHO community at large, NGHO representatives, or public perceptions of their independence.”

What does “avoid interfering with NGHO relief efforts” mean to InterAction members and other NGHOs not affiliated with InterAction, be they American NGHOs or otherwise? Does this mean that NGHO shipments of humanitarian aid are not subject to being stopped and thoroughly searched my military forces? I remember during my first rotation in Kosovo an incident where an NGHO tried to run a checkpoint in the American sector, and another case where an ambulance donated by an NGHO was used in an attempt to smuggle weapons into Mitrovica. U.S. and coalition military forces may have good, legally valid reasons to search NGHO shipments of humanitarian assistance. As article 23 of the 4th Geneva Convention states:

The obligation of a High Contracting Party to allow the free passage of the consignments indicated in the preceding paragraph is subject to the condition that this Party is satisfied that there are no serious reasons for fearing: (a) that the consignments may be diverted from their destination,(b) that the control may not be effective, or(c) that a definite advantage may accrue to the military efforts or economy of the enemy through the substitution of the above-mentioned consignments for goods which would otherwise be provided or produced by the enemy or through the release of such material, services or facilities as would otherwise be required for the production of such goods.

While the 4th Convention recognizes that militaries have an obligation to look after the needs of civilian populations under their control and that they should facilitate the work of NGHOs that choose to help meet those needs, the Convention has a rather narrow definition of needs that militaries are obligated to see met:

Each High Contracting Party shall allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary. It shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases.

Here the High Contracting Parties are taking precautions to ensure that while trying to take care of civilian non-combatants that they are not sustaining military-aged males and females. (In 1949 they had not envisioned the Lord’s Resistance Army and its conscription of young children.) This guidance flies in the face of the aims of most NGHOs who want to distribute aid impartially to all people in need, regardless of their age or loyalties.

Back to my “why this is important” portion of my slide show. I cited article 61 of the 4th Convention to explain to students the importance of working with ICRC and NGOs:
“The distribution of the relief consignments referred to in the foregoing Articles shall be carried out with the cooperation and under the supervision of the Protecting Power. This duty may also be delegated, by agreement between the Occupying Power and the Protecting Power, to a neutral Power, to the International Committee of the Red Cross or to any other impartial humanitarian body.”

At this point, H. Roy Williams, President of the Center for Humanitarian Cooperation ( , gave me a better perspective of the realities on the ground based on his many years arranging humanitarian assistance for distressed population in numerous conflict zones:
“All this is true, but what I am trying to point out is that the convention is aimed at assigning responsibility following armed conflict. How one meets that responsibility is another matter. Also, the convention article only applies following a state of conflict where there is a victorious military. Most situations these folks will face in the future are not likely to be of that nature as numerous statements from officialdom in Washington indicate.

Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, resulted from a combination of political, social, and historical issues. The concept of non-intervention as an assumption of international behavior played and still plays a major role as the book “A Problem from Hell” on the UN and our failure to act as the genocide unfolded clearly demonstrates. The role of France, for example, has never been made clear and other countries had the concept of Francophone Africa very much in mind when considering what to do. I remember the French establishing Zone Turquoise as a sort of safe haven for some Hutu after Kigali fell to the RPF which, as you know, had been training for years in Uganda for a return. Establishing this Zone actually served to spur the genocide as the Genocidaires saw this as encouraging their efforts and the French did nothing to stop the provocation by radio or arrest those they knew to be complicit. I cite this as an indication of how complicated the situation was as establishing this area was actually the result of a UZN resolution notwithstanding the outcome.

R2P (Responsibility to Protect) is an attempt to get around this inertia of the international community. Also, it is worth noting that the RPF was training to return from Uganda for years.

In short, the relation between the military and NGOs and other humanitarian groups is not a function of the protocol. The references you cite such as the USIP Guide and the OCHA Guidelines never even refer to it. My concern is that highlighting it in what is a limited and probably outdated context sends a message with little relation to the reality of civil/military interaction.”

My reading of the Convention is that it does apply to signatories time of war, both wars between High Contracting Parties and wars within the boundary of a High Contracting Party (civil war or insurgency.) But Roy raises an excellent point. This treaty was published after the conclusion of World War II and before the losers of that war were totally rehabilitated and welcome members of the IC. This doesn’t mean that the drafters and signatories were totally ignorant of the French Resistance or Tito’s Partisans, but chances are they were more focused on wars between major powers. I don’t think the High Contracting Parties anticipated all the “wars of national liberation,” civil wars and bouts of ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence that we have witnessed since 1949. I can’t explain why USIP and OCHA guidelines don’t reference the treaty. I think they should, since it is international law related to the humanitarian community of practice as well as the nations that ratified it.

I think Roy’s email to me addressed some of the intricacies of civil-military integration in response to mass atrocities. It is hard to help victims without helping perpetrators if you are trying to be neutral and help a very large number of needy people. Take it a step further, if an NGHO tries to act in accordance with the 4th Convention and assist a nation’s military in meeting its obligation to the civilian population under its control, it can find itself again in an uncomfortable position visa vis its own charter. A good example of this is the ongoing humanitarian operation in Sri Lanka. (See link “Sri Lanka keeps refugees in camp that aid built” at right.) Humanitarian organizations, acting in good faith, helped build a camp for civilians displaced by the recent fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. It now appears the Sri Lankan military is controlling access to and egress from the camp. Is this for the protection of camp residents or is it an effort to deny any remaining Tigers access to the civilian population?

Finally, Lisa Schirch, Director of the 3D Security Initiative notes: “In today’s world, the line between the military and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is blurring at exponential speed.” (See link at right.) This can mean either or both of two things: more conflict between militaries and humanitarian actors or more cooperation. The two are not mutually exclusive, as there many different zones of conflicts, many militaries and many NGHOs. Ideally, with proper education and training, we will see more cooperation.


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