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Yet again, places meant to save lives were bombed. Doctors, nurses and patients were killed in Aleppo, Syria, a month ago, as our memory is still fresh with the similar fate of a hospital in Kunduz. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) registered 2,400 attacks against patients, health personnel, facilities and transports over three years between 2012 and 2014 in 11 conflict-affected countries. That’s more than two attacks per day, without considering the incidents happening in other parts of the world and those which go unreported.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, 53 Syrian Arab Red Crescent and eight Palestine Red Crescent volunteers and staff have been killed while providing basic services such as food, water, blankets and medical care. In Afghanistan, ICRC noted last year one incident every three days against health staff and facilities, up double from 2014. The outrage we feel keeps on piling up higher and higher, like the rubble of the destruction from the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine or Yemen, just to name a few.

At a time when there has never been so many displaced persons since World War II, when millions of women, men, boys and girls are experiencing armed conflict for large periods of their lives, when they risk daily sexual violence, illegal detention, forced conscription or the impact of explosive weapons, when they lack access to adequate food, water, health, sanitation and education for months if not decades, humanitarian actors find it more and more difficult to respond to their needs.

To help them survive and recover with dignity from such situations, humanitarian action cannot be limited to short-term substitution of essential services and requires long-term engagement. The World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul, is therefore a timely opportunity for all of us to reflect on the future of humanitarian action.

As a humanitarian organization working on the front lines of conflicts for more than 150 years, the ICRC has been responding to assistance and protection needs of people affected by armed conflict and violence following its distinct and unique model: that of a principled neutral impartial independent humanitarian actor.

It is however a fact that in the past 150 years, the humanitarian landscape has evolved greatly. There are nowadays many more humanitarian actors with their own ways of working and varied missions or motives.

The humanitarian world cannot be seen or shaped as one global system. It is rather an ecosystem and, to the ICRC’s view, this is a good thing. For example, local actors may come under severe pressure relating to the conflict in their own country. The role of impartial international actors like the ICRC is therefore essential, especially for the protection of victims of armed conflicts. Furthermore, the synergy created between local and international mandates and roles, different perspectives and action can benefit humanitarian organizations and the people they serve.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — the largest and oldest humanitarian network with 190 national societies and two international components, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC — is a living example of such strength gained from working together with complementary roles, as the reality of armed conflict is different to that of social crisis and disaster.

Diverse and complementarity well-coordinated humanitarian actors are therefore the best way to ensure better responses to the needs of people affected by armed conflict or natural disasters. In this sense, while supportive of many World Humanitarian Summit initiatives, the ICRC and other parts of the RC Movement cannot engage in a process involving reporting under the United Nations mechanism as it would compromise our independence.

In his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, the U.N. secretary-general wants to make the principle of humanity and the protection of civilians a common guide to states, humanitarian agencies and individuals.

These two principles are at the heart of international humanitarian law, the set of rules that seeks to protect those not or no longer participating in war and to which parties to a conflict, as well as all 196 state parties to the Geneva Conventions, must abide. Indeed, even those who are not directly party to a conflict, such as Japan, have a wider obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

When efforts to maintain international peaceful relations fail, it is the responsibility of states to uphold and comply with international humanitarian law, the single most important way to reduce human suffering in armed conflicts and global displacement. And let us be clear that the issue is not that international humanitarian law may be irrelevant or eroded. The biggest problem is the lack of compliance and the strategies of those who choose to breach existing and accepted rules. What is needed is a fundamental change of behavior in warfare.

It is also important to stress that, with regard to the World Humanitarian Summit’s focus on building resilience of communities, one cannot accept that communities are asked to be prepared and made more resilient to conflict, like they can for natural disasters. We must not accept that our fellow humans have to cope with recurring grave breaches of international humanitarian law.

Obviously the World Humanitarian Summit cannot be expected to resolve single-handedly the raft of grave humanitarian problems the world faces. The ICRC believes however that this summit is an opportunity for states and other actors to not only clearly recommit politically to respect the laws already agreed upon, but also and most importantly, to put forward measurable commitments that will deliver concrete outcomes, beyond all the process and rhetoric. It is important that things don’t return to “business as usual” and that the protection of the people affected by conflict comes first.

Even war has limits, because war without limits is war without end. Humanity in war is what we demand.

Linh Schroeder is head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ mission in Tokyo.

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