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International Humanitarian Law: Lebanon Case Study


International humanitarian law, which is popularly referred to as the law of the armed conflict, is an international law that was designed in 1949 to regulate the behavior and the conduct of individuals engaging in armed conflicts.

The law was designed after the conferences held in Geneva and The Hague. A number of treaties, case studies, and traditional laws were relied upon during the designing of the international humanitarian law. The law states clearly the role and responsibility of aggressive states, nonaligned states, and those engaged directly in war.

The main aim of the international humanitarian law is to protect the civilians who are usually targeted as soft spots during wars. A state or an individual violating the international law is usually perceived as a violator of the human rights and the act is considered a war crime. International humanitarian law is classified as jus in bello implying that it defines the actions of actors in the international system as regards to warfare or armed conflict.

International humanitarian law, jus in bello, is different from jus ad bellum, whose main role is to prevent states from engaging in armed conflict (McCoubrey 78). All states that are signatories to the treaty are expected to respect the law and abide by all rules provided in the charter. The law has gone through a number of amendments since its inception to ensure that civilians are never targeted during armed conflict.

Lebanon is one of the states that have always engaged in armed conflict with other actors in the international system without respecting the international humanitarian law. The law has a number of customary unwritten laws that should guide the conduct and behavior of actors in the international system. However, it is upon the states and their allies to respect the law.

Some states prefer respecting the provisions while others have always disregarded the law and acted in a manner that is always very dangerous to the very survival of society. This paper looks at the actions of Lebanon in relation to the international humanitarian law.

The paper employs a case study method to comprehend the actions of the state, which have always been viewed with contempt. It is noted that the conflicts that the state has so far engaged in are both non-international and international. In both conflicts, the international humanitarian law has never been respected because innocent people were attacked and property worth of billions destroyed. The conflicts have gone through various phases because they are majorly inspired by religion.

The Case

The first conflict that would be discussed in this article is Israeli-Hezbollah War, which is commonly referred to as the second Lebanon War of 2006. Israel attacked a section of Lebanon in response to the claims that a militia group destabilizing the economy of Israel was hiding in the south of Lebanon. Israel set up a naval barricade and initiated one of the most powerful bombing campaigns that left hundreds of thousands injured and others displaced from their homes. The war started on 12 July 2006 and proceeded to 14 August 2006.

On 12 July 2006, a group of Lebanese Islamic extremists and guerillas moved to Israel and launched attacks on the Israeli soldiers, killing at least three and capturing at least two Israeli soldiers. The aggressors retreated to their base in Lebanon after committing the heinous act of terrorism to innocent soldiers. The Lebanese president, Hassan Nasrallah, noted that the incarcerated armed forces would be traded off with Lebanese captives being detained in Israel.

The Israeli premier, Ehud Olmert, viewed the act of militias as an aggression that deserved to be treated as war. In regard, he promised to respond militarily by sending troops to Lebanon. Among Lebanese, the war is usually terms as the July while Israeli’s view it as the second Lebanon war. The Lebanese militias were well armed meaning that they had full support from the government of Lebanon.

An Israeli Merkava Mark II container made an effort of salvaging the detained armed forces, but the mission was fruitless since an improvised explosive hit the tank, killing all solders. The actions of militias sparked a large scale war whereby the Israeli military attacked various sections of Lebanon through naval and air strikes.

On their part, Lebanon attacked various sections of Israeli with rocket missiles and artillery attacks. Israel aimed at cutting any link between Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian and Syrian Hezbollah groups. Lebanon attacked various parts of Israel with sophisticated weapons as compared to the attacked that Israel launched. Lebanon was well equipped with weapons allegedly acquired from Iran and Syria.

For instance, rocket attacks to the city of Haifa caused damage to civilians at the airport and in the nearby villages. Israel responded by attacking Lebanese infrastructure and civilians in an attempt to prove to the Lebanese people that the Hezbollah was to blame for the attack.

Through this, the Israeli policy makers thought that the public opinion towards the Shiite militia would change. To the contrary, many groups in Lebanon, including Christians blamed Israel for destroying life and property. The Israeli government did not achieve its objective of inciting the Lebanese populace against the government. Moreover, it lost seriously as regards to protecting lives and property since the Hezbollah destroyed various Israeli cities and villages.

In a different scenario, Lebanon was engaged in a non-international conflict in 1958 when there was an uprising against the government. It was fifteen years since the state had obtained independence from French when the proletariat felt that the government was doing little to protect it. The conflict was so serious to an extent that the US intervened to save lives (Ovendale 286). The conflict was between Maronite Christians and Muslims, who were the majority.

Muslims felt that the president, Camille Chamoun a Christian, was supporting the western powers, which had attacked Egypt. The Muslims demanded that the president had to cut diplomatic links with the western powers, including Israel. Moreover, the president had contributed in the drafting of the Baghdad Pact, which was unproductive to Muslims. This was perceived as a threat to the Arab nationalism.

There was tension between the Prime Minister (Muslim) and the president regarding the joining of the new alliances. The president wanted to remain an ally of the west while the prime minister supported the new alliance that had just been formed in the Middle East referred to as the United Arab Republic (UAR).

Iran and Syria supplied Muslims in Lebanon with weapons to frustrate the government. This forced the president to complain to the UN Security Council. The United Nations report concluded that the claims were baseless. Moreover, the Soviet Union threatened to use weapons of mass destruction in case the US intervened militarily.

However, the US president, Eisenhower, intervened by commissioning the operation blue bat, which was one of the doctrines that were designed to salvage the regimes that were threatened by communism. This is usually considered a proxy war, which was an effect of the Cold War. The Lebanese military, with the help of the American military, caused destruction to life and property in the country (Little 65).

In 1975 to 1989, the conflict in Lebanon intensified when the Christians were perceived to support the west. The Christian militias attacked a bus that was ferrying Palestinians from one of the refugee camps in Sabra to Tel al-Zataar refugee camp. The attack was very destructive because at least thirty Palestinians were killed and scores of others injured. The Christians in Lebanon were responding to an attack that had earlier been perpetuated by the Palestinians to the Kata’ ib leader Pierre Gemayel.

The conflicts between Lebanese Christians and Palestinian militias degenerated into a large-scale war whereby it took the intervention of the government to end the conflict. The cabinet resigned because it was so much divided on the issue to an extent that it could not come up with a single policy to end the civil war. The conflict degenerated into a civil war, which was later termed as the Lebanese second civil war.

A part from the conflicts that resulted to the attack, Lebanese Christians were protesting over the 1943 National Pact that was designed by the Sunni and Shina communities. The conflict was so intense because both sides violated the human rights meaning that the international humanitarian law was not respected.

Type of the Conflict

From the case study, it can be observed that the type of conflict is both domestic and international. However, it is eminent that religion is the major cause of both conflicts because the enmity between Christians and Muslims is actually the major problem in the Middle East region.

Christians believe that they have a right to live in any part of the world. In this case, they feel that the Islamic laws should not be applied in governing the regions that they occupy. However, Muslims on their part believe that the Islamic laws are supreme hence they should be applied in administering all parts of the country. In the government, the decisions of Muslims are always valued because they are the majority.

The problem emerges when the president is a Christian because he or she would tend to favor Christians, something that angers Muslims so much. Camille Chamoun was under pressure to drop all plans with the west and join an Islamic pact whose major aim was to ensure the dominance of Islam in the region.

However, the president could not drop the diplomatic relations with the west because they were his closest advisors and sponsors. This led to internal strife whereby members of the Islamic communities believed that the president was sabotaging their programs. They had no option but to attack the Christians and communities from the president’s stronghold. In this sense, it is true that the conflict was internal (non-international), even though the international actors played a critical role.

The conflicts were also international because the state engaged in armed conflict with Israel. The belief of many Middle East states is that Israel is the major problem in the region because it is occupying a territory that historically belongs to Palestinians. In fact, a number of them note that they never contributed in displacing Jews in Europe and other parts of the world.

They wonder why they should pay the price of having to live with Jews yet they were peaceful at the time when the Jews were being assassinated during the Second World War. The west has always supported Israelis to an extent of granting them a state in 1948 through the United Nations resolution. This is always interpreted to mean interfering with the internal affairs of other states, including tempering with sovereignty.

For many years, the international community has never appreciated the existence of Palestine as a state. From time to time, extremists and sympathizers of Palestine have launched attacks in Israel to protest the move by the international community to plant Israel at the heart of Palestine. In this case, it can be observed that the conflicts are international because the international community propagates them.

Parties to the Conflict

There are various parties to the conflicts taking place in Lebanon, including regional and international parties. The first party is the Lebanese government because it has always taken side whenever a religious conflict emerges in the state. The main role of the government is to protect life, facilitate a peaceful environment, and ensure that people coexist harmoniously.

In other words, the government should provide an enabling environment for individual realization of goals. The state should ensure that infrastructure is provided and security is maintained and restored using all possible means, including force. However, the government of Lebanon has always taken sides whenever a conflict between Christians and Muslims emerges (Qubain 18). For instance, the state supported the Islamic militias that attacked Israel, which resulted to inter-state conflicts.

Domestically, the subsequent presidents have always taken sides, resulting to loss of lives and property. The government has never honored the provisions of the international humanitarian law, which states that a government should always ensure that it keeps off from heinous acts that would lead to unnecessary loss of life and property. Other actors in the international system are also parties to the frequent conflicts taking place in Lebanon.

Actually, these actors have the power, through the international law, of stopping Lebanon from harming a section of its population. In reality, the international community has been able to stop the acts of violence and aggression in other parts of the world, including Kenya whereby the international community threatened to slap sanctions to the government in 2007 in case it did not respond to the cries of the citizens.

Moreover, a number of Kenyan leaders were taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over claims of crimes against humanity. The United States and the European states played a crucial role meaning that they can as well pressure the Lebanese government to respect human life. Others parties include Iran, which is accused of supplying weapons to militia groups, Syria, which offers technical support to extremists, and Israel, which is accused of launching attacks without investigating the matter in detail.

Geneva Conventions refers to the number of meetings and conferences that were held from 1864 to 1949 to arrive at the current laws regarding the protection of human rights and civilians in general. The laws contained in the Geneva Conventions protect those individuals who can no longer sustain the war, including the common citizens.

There are four conventions, which were revised after the Second World War and adopted in 1949. Apart from the common provisions, the Geneva Conventions outline the procedures that combats should follow since some methods are prohibited under the law. In the case of Lebanon, there are provisions that specifically deal with civil wars while others deal with international conflicts.

For the case of international conflicts, the Lebanese military should have invoked the Third Geneva Convention, which talks about the treatment of prisoners of war. The law states that prisoners of war should be provided with some basic needs, such as food, medication, and clothing. Protocol I states that all victims of the war should be protected, irrespective of whether they are soldiers or citizens. Lebanon should have invoked this law in handling the captured Israeli soldiers.

Protocol II is concerned with the protection of victims of war, which is not international meaning that it protects citizens and other individuals who are not engaged in war. The second protocol is closely related to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects citizens who do not engage in war. These are some of the provisions of the international humanitarian law that Lebanon violated when engaging in conflicts with Israel. Moreover, the government failed to protect its own citizens from engaging in conflicts that threatened human life.

The second protocol and the fourth convention were not observed. The common customary rules of international law state that those who do not engage in war should be given protection and they need to be treated humanely. Moreover, an individual who surrenders should be allowed to do so without injuring him or her (Forsythe 18). The injured individuals should be given specialized care meaning that the combatants should not neglect prisoners to die.


The local and regional mechanisms of dealing with conflicts are almost similar in all parts of the world. States are always encouraged to pursue peace and avoid hostilities meaning that they should always seek global assistance through the UN instead of engaging in conflicts.

The universal declaration of human rights states that the government has the sole responsibility of ensuring that citizens are awarded maximum protection. The state should institute a strong police service and a stable military that has the power to protect citizens, both locally and internationally. For the case of Lebanon, it can be concluded that it failed to provide maximum security to its people since a number of lives were lost through civil conflicts.

Mechanisms Implementing International Humanitarian Law

Implementation of a policy demands political good will and trust from the side of leaders. The law has never been implemented in the international system due to lack of political good will. States are usually inspired by selfish interests meaning that they would do anything to fulfill their ambitions.

In the same way, the government has never considered the law an important aspect as far as protection of lives is concerned. Launching military attacks and waging retaliatory attacks have always been viewed as the best options. In Lebanon, there is no domestic law that forces the state to observe the international codes of conducts. This gives aggressors a blank check.

Works Cited

Forsythe, David. The humanitarians: the International Committee of the Red Cross. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Little, Douglas. “His Finest Hour? Eisenhower, Lebanon, and the 1958 Middle East Crisis.” Diplomatic History, 20.1 (1996): 27–54.

McCoubrey, Hilaire. International Humanitarian Law. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 1999.

Ovendale, Ritchie. “Great Britain and the Anglo-American Invasion of Jordan and Lebanon in 1958.” The International History Review, 16.2 (1994): 284–304. Print.

Qubain, Fahim. Crisis in Lebanon. Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 1961. Print.

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