Panel Discussion: The Roots of Behaviour in War revisited

Date Published: July 26, 2016 Author: ICRC

On 28 April 2016, the ICRC hosted a panel discussion at the Humanitarium with some of the leading experts involved in the update of the ICRC study “The Roots of Behaviour in War.” As part of the ICRC’s Conference Cycle on “Generating respect for the law,” the panel accompanied the first meeting of these experts in Geneva, highlighting their specific contributions, hypotheses, and approaches.

The research presented by the panel seeks to answer the question ‘What restrains armed actors from committing atrocities?,’ looks at how communities respond, and identifies how the ICRC may need to adapt its approaches to engaging non-state armed actors. The learning is important in ensuring that activities go beyond just information dissemination on IHL, but also see that IHL is inserted into doctrine, codes of conduct, training, and compliance mechanisms.

A few key points relevant to results-based protection arose during the discussion:

  • A comprehensive understanding of the structures of armed groups is essential to understanding where change needs to happen – whether efforts should be focused on changing policy, practice, attitudes, and/or behavior. For example, both the US military and FARC guerrillas have strong vertical organization where strong training and prohibitions have been shown to affect behavior. But in the case of the FARC, the behavior of combatants depended on individual commanders rather than a single code of conduct. In another example, despite high levels of violence cattle herders in South Sudan show a level of order and restraint according to local laws and norms. In this context, local leaders play an important role in influencing these more informal groups.
  • In other examples, the role of the community plays an important role in shaping how combatants adhere to IHL. For example, research that largely focused on Colombia identified the impact that the conflict had on communities themselves where in areas of high rates of violence, local community structures were strong. It’s important for ICRC and other humanitarians to be able to identify and build on these approaches by communities and learn from them.

For more information and a recording of the event, click HERE.


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