All parties in any armed conflict are required to respect humanitarian international law, especially to ensure that civilian populations are not targeted and affected during wars.
Col. Jill Rutaremara, the director, Rwanda Peace Academy, made the call yesterday while opening a week-long course on Law of Armed Conflicts at the academy in Musanze District.
The course drew 25 participants, including military and police personnel, as well as civilians from six countries under the Eastern African Standby Force, namely; Comoros, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan and hosts Rwanda.
Participants will learn and share lessons on protection of people and property during armed conflict.
Rutaremara said the course was very important as armed conflict, justifiable or not, have been and will always continue to be a horrifying phenomenon as Africa and the world at large continue to face interstate and intra-state armed conflict.
“While war is by its nature cruel, its effect can be mitigated or limited,” Rutaremara told the trainees.
“Persons and the property affected by armed conflict can be protected. The rights of the parties to the conflict to use methods and means of warfare of their choices can also be regulated. Persons who do not or are no longer taking part in hostilities should also be accorded the necessary protection,” he added.
He stressed that such protection should also be applied to the wounded and the sick during armed conflict as well as prisoners of war and all civilian persons.
He said that international humanitarian law binds state and non-state actors during any armed conflict.
Individuals may be held individually criminally responsible for committing war crimes or violating international humanitarian law for that matter, he noted.
Col. Rutaremara cited the case of former leaders of the FDLR militia, its president Ignace Murwanashyaka, and his deputy Straton Musoni, in Germany, saying it should serve as a lesson to those who violate International Humanitarian Law.
Last year, a German court handed 13 and eight years to Murwanashyaka and Musoni, respectively, after finding them guilty of various war crimes.
“It is imperative to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants and between military and non-military targets in any armed conflict,” Rutaremara said.
“All efforts should be mobilised to ensure that individual civilians and civilian populations are not targeted...in particular, internally displaced persons, women, children, refugees, stateless persons and journalists need to be protected.”
Participants said the course would help them acquire additional skills on how to behave during armed conflicts.
“This course will help us acquire skills which are important for all people involved in armed conflict and help us know how to protect civilians and property in such situations, it is crucial for us to be equipped, whether in armed conflict or not,” said Superintendent of Police Rosemarry Karamuta, from Kenya.
Col Gai Chatiem, the Defence Attaché of South Sudan to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, said that non-armed persons have always been victims of wars in Africa and the skills he will acquire from the course will be shared with his colleagues back home.
The course was funded by the government of Japan.