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The international Humanitarian Law

Italy actively contributes to promoting international humanitarian law (IHL) in order to restrict, for humanitarian reasons, the effects of armed conflict on combatants and on the civilian populations.

Italy is part of the Hague Conventions, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the three Additional Protocols which constitute the main legal acts on the issue.

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 were the first international legal instruments to codify the rules belligerents must observe during hostilities. Among the fifteen conventions that currently constitute the “Hague law”, are of particular relevance: the 2nd Hague Convention of 1899 with respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land; the 5th and 13th Hague Convention of 1907 which establishes the rights and duties of neutral powers and persons, respectively in case of war on land and in naval war.

The First and Second Geneva Convention oblige signatory states to protect the wounded, sick, shipwrecked, medical personnel, ambulances and hospitals. The Third Geneva Convention regulates the treatment of prisoners of war. The Fourth Geneva Convention contains rules aimed at protecting civilians who find themselves in enemy hands or in an occupied territory.

In 1977 two additional Protocols to the Conventions of 1949 were approved: the First Additional Protocol completes the Fourth Geneva Convention with rules on the conduct of the war, such as the prohibition of attacking civilian persons and installations and the limitation of means and methods allowed; the Second Additional Protocol, relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts, develops and completes the art. 3, common to the Geneva Conventions, and applies to all armed conflicts which are included in the scope of the First Protocol.

The Third Additional Protocol, approved in 2005, introduced the use of a new emblem, the Red Crystal, which can be used in time of war by international humanitarian organizations. It is an alternative to the traditional symbols of the Red Cross and Crescent, and it is not related, nor can be confused with religious symbols.

Italy has a long history of institutional cooperation with the Italian Red Cross (CRI) and with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, Swiss organization set up in 1863, whose mandate is grounded primarily in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and in the three Additional Protocols).

IHL must nowadays confront new and complex challenges, such as the increased number of non-State actors; the control of the territory by terrorist groups; the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between combatants and civilians in military operations; the protection of humanitarian workers; the outsourcing of military activities to private companies; the possibility of cyber-attacks. These challenges require, on the one hand, the strengthening of preventive crisis diplomacy and the search for political solutions to the ongoing conflicts; on the other, the need to respect and to “enforce” the provisions of Geneva Conventions.

Italy supports initiatives aimed at strengthening the existing instruments to ensure respect of IHL and to identify new instruments of IHL protection.

Italy cooperates in particular with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in Sanremo, one of the most important international training centers for military personnel in the field of IHL.