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First, to clarify, International Humanitarian Law does not exist to prevent conflicts, but rather to create limits to how warfare is carried out so that the lives and dignity of the civilian population are protected.
The way in which wars are being carried out however is changing. For one, conflicts are becoming increasing fractured, with more armed actors, many of which would not have a central command structure which makes promoting International Humanitarian Law and respect for it more complex. The lines between military and civilian have been more blurred and battles are increasingly fought in urban areas using explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Conflicts are also lasting longer—in our 10 largest operations, we have been on the ground for an average of 36 years.
The consequences of these trends are completely devastating. International Humanitarian Law balances humanity and military necessity. When respected, IHL protects the lives and dignity of the civilian population and reduces the devastation caused by conflict, which can take countries years if not decades to come back from. Humanitarian aid also has limits—we can deliver food and water and provide medical care, but behaviour on the battlefield is paramount in reducing suffering in armed conflicts.
One of the most significant, yet little known programs outside of the NGO-circles of the International Red Cross is its family reunification program that many credit for unifying families in areas of conflict. Tell me about that?
Families are often separated during armed conflicts and situations of violence. On dangerous migration routes, people can often disappear, leaving their families devastated and waiting for answers. Humanitarian aid often focuses on basic needs like food, water, and shelter, but people live in a constant state of uncertainty and grief if they do not know the fate of their loved ones. Globally, the ICRC, together with national societies including the Ethiopia Red Cross Society, is currently searching for approximately 100,000 people.