The rules of war demand respect

Joe Clark is a former Conservative prime minister; Ed Broadbent is a former leader of the New Democratic Party; Irwin Cotler is a former Liberal MP and minister of justice.

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The Geneva Conventions were codified in 1949, in the shadow of the Second World War, to a world that sought a way to minimize the horrendous human suffering caused by unbridled armed conflict. The Conventions established a set of rules designed to protect civilians, the sick and the wounded in times of war, no matter what side of a conflict they may be on – and to ensure that structures essential to the preservation of life, such as hospitals, remain as protected spaces off-limits to military action.

Unfortunately, respect for the Conventions and the basic principles of international humanitarian law has been steadily eroding, as belligerents in theatres of combat around the world have treated not only medical facilities but humanitarian workers themselves as military targets. Hospitals in Syria, aid workers in Central African Republic, and medical facilities in Ukraine have all come under attack in the past year. Health-care workers have been killed, crucial infrastructure has been destroyed, and people already suffering under conflict and violence have been deprived of essential, lifesaving care.

Damaged buildings at the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after U.S. aerial attack on Oct. 3, 2015. (REUTERS)

Damaged buildings at the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after U.S. aerial attack on Oct. 3, 2015.
(REUTERS)

JOE CLARK, ED BROADBENT AND IRWIN COTLER
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published: Nov. 13, 2015