ASEAN-IPR Symposium on International Humanitarian Law

ASEAN-IPR Symposium on International Humanitarian Law

Strengthening Convergences for Humanitarian Action in ASEAN: “An ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation Symposium on International Humanitarian Law”

2-3 October 2017

Manila, Philippines


The ASEAN-IPR Governing Council led by its 2017 Chair, H.E. Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, and the Members of the ASEAN-IPR Advisory Board, pose for a group photo with the Symposiums keynote speaker, OPAPP Secretary Jesus Dureza. Also in the photo are H.E. Andrea Reichlin (Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines), H.E. Erik Forner (Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines), and Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns, Jose Luis Montales.

The ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR), together with the Philippine Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), held a two-day Symposium entitled “Strengthening Convergences for Humanitarian Action: An ASEAN-IPR Symposium on International Humanitarian Law”?on 2-3 October 207 in Manila, Philippines. The Governments of Norway and Switzerland also supported the Symposium.

The Symposium, one of the activities organized to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, welcomed over 170 policy-makers and peace practitioners from ASEAN Member States, and civil society organizations from all over the world, to explore the convergences of International Humanitarian Law, Humanitarian Principles, Religious Norms and Customary Practices to address some specific humanitarian and protection challenges within ASEAN.

In his keynote address, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Chair of the ASEAN-IPR Advisory Board, acknowledged that violent extremism is a problem that ASEAN needs to be addressed. He continued to say that while modern technology has been an effective tool in countering extremists, it comes with a great price. We see missiles, smart bombs and drones providing means of efficiently killing the enemy. But with all the emergence of technology, we lose the humanity part. Sometimes, we forget what effect it has to victims, especially innocent civilians, he expressed. In that, he called on the body to put not only heads, but also hearts together, in the pursuit of doable action plans that will translate to positive changes for the lives of people.

Mr. Pascal Porchet, Head of the ICRC Delegation in the Philippines, underscored the importance of this symposium as a regional dialogue among stakeholders concerned with humanitarian access to people in need in complex emergencies, and to contribute towards conflict prevention in ASEAN. H.E. Andrea Reichlin, Ambassador of Switzerland to the Philippines, and H.E. Erik Forner, Ambassador of Norway to the Philippines, in their respective opening remarks, both highlighted the importance of partnerships to address humanitarian assistance and protection challenges with a view to ensure the respect of humanitarian law.

The interactive discussions covered, among others, the protection challenges related to conflicts and ethnic tensions in the region, and the challenges faced in translating humanitarian principles and religious values into practice, with a particular focus in strengthening protection for vulnerable groups. The Symposium identified best practices in terms of enhancing respect and appreciation for the principles of humanitarian law.

H.E. Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to ASEAN and Chair of the ASEAN-IPR Governing Council, together with Mr. Christoph Sutter, Head of the ICRC Delegation to Indonesia and Timor Leste, synthesized the substantive sessions and consolidated the various recommendations that the discussions had yielded. Of note were the recommendations to strengthen cooperation with faith-based organizations and nurture partnerships at the local, national and international levels with a view to promote principled humanitarian action in the region.

In her closing remarks, Ambassador Buensuceso commended the Symposiums participants for providing inspiration on how each of us can become active members of an international family of peace-makers and peace lovers. She underscored that despite the all too-frequent gloomy and devastating news of trouble, conflict and hatred in the world today, there are religious leaders, academics, humanitarian workers, legal and law enforcement officers, government officials, diplomats, health-care providers, educators and other segments of civil society that are focused on the upliftment of human dignity and the provision of humanitarian assistance to every human life, particularly that of the vulnerable, the weak — those people who have nothing to do with the conflict in the first place.


Executive Summary

The Symposium opened with the acknowledgment of the wisdom of ASEANs 50 years of existence. This fact makes it well placed to support peace in the global fora, as well as use its influence and experience to encourage further efforts in preventing and responding to conflicts in the region and beyond. ASEAN has had extensive experience in disaster management and humanitarian relief that makes it a natural partner for organizations, such as the ICRC to ensure a principled humanitarian action (assistance and protection) for those in need around the world.

Sub-national conflicts and inter-group tensions occur within ASEAN States. Aside from these, transnational challenges, such as terrorism, drugs and climate risks affect the region and can have serious consequences, especially on the more vulnerable sections of ASEAN communities. The Symposium, therefore, focused on protection concerns in human-induced disasters, without intending to specify any particular contexts.

Four key aspects to improve peoples protection and restore their lives to one of dignity, health, prosperity and hope, and their natural link with the vision of the ASEAN community were highlighted: (1) Humanity as a common value, (2) Principled humanitarian action as a distinct humanitarian response and valuable approach, (3) Partnerships as essential, and (4) Prevention of human-induced disasters as the preferred choice.

ASEAN nations and people are rich in humanitarian spirit and have deep experience, expertise and capacity in crisis management of all kinds. Engaging with ASEAN is, therefore, key to add its perspective to global debates on humanitarian affairs, to shape complementary approaches for the reduction of protection challenges around the world and to promote a culture of prevention.

Religious and indigenous traditions, including Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Lumad and others have formulated, shared and promoted fundamental values and norms to protect lives, respect the environment, provide help to people in need, regardless of their background, both in times of peace and conflict in ASEAN contexts. Religious teachings, therefore, share many similarities with humanitarian principles and IHL rules. Convergences around universal principles such as humanity should be systematized, strengthened and maximized when addressing humanitarian challenges.

Humanitarian crises in ASEAN Member-States, such as the tsunami in Aceh and the Marawi Siege in the Philippines, have given rise to faith-based humanitarian organizations that are motivated to take action because of religious imperatives. However, they often face challenges when they adopt the principles of impartiality and neutrality in delivering assistance to people in need.

Confronted with the common notion that conflicts in Southeast Asia have a religious dimension, faith-based leaders concluded that intra-faith and inter-faith dialogues are actually the preferable means to promote common humanitarian values and to foster collaboration among different faith-based communities in order to address humanitarian challenges.

Humanitarian principles and IHL are also often perceived as western concepts, and not easily understood by ordinary people in ASEAN. The principle of humanity, which is simple and universal in nature, underpin the teachings of religious and indigenous traditions, may be offered as an alternative framework guiding humanitarian action. Despite some resistance to adhere to them, in practice, these sets principles remain widely accepted and observed.

There is also the observation that during conflict and humanitarian crises, members of non-state armed groups and government security forces, particularly the lower-ranking troops on the ground, are often unaware of the role of humanitarian actors, as well as IHL norms, humanitarian principles and religious values. The need to step up information dissemination and education so that they are better able to appreciate and understand these principles is, therefore, necessary.

The ASEAN-IPR Symposium highlighted the importance of:

  • harnessing interfaith initiatives across different sectors and promoting common humanitarian principles;
  • looking to the humanitarian partnership practice demonstrated by faith-based and other humanitarian organizations from different religious and cultural backgrounds, which have expanded their networks and enhanced their cooperation with various stakeholders, including through mechanisms such as the Humanitarian Forum Indonesia (HFI);
  • building relationships and establishing trust among humanitarian actors, especially on the ground while humanitarian action is underway;
  • encouraging governments and authorities to increase their efforts to disseminate IHL and humanitarian principles, including in peace time to ensure preparedness and resilience within the communities;
  • ensuring the preservation of a space for principled humanitarian action, within a context of increased religious polarization.


In terms of increasing the protection of vulnerable groups while addressing conflict and security – related challenges in specific settings, the discussions emphasized the following:

The issue of health care was powerfully summed up with the statement that in a war without limits, the population pays the highest price.

The fluid and changing nature of conflicts and situations of violence, with their severe consequences, make conditions increasingly volatile for health care workers and facilities they operate within. The consequences of attacks on health care facilities have devastating effects, not only for patients under treatment, but also for communities who lose access to essential health care.

In recent years, health care facilities and workers, including military medical personnel and local volunteers have been increasingly targeted. Studies have identified that the top 3 perpetrators are international forces, state security forces and non-state armed actors. Attacks on health care facilities are either aerial or on the ground, with acts ranging from looting to killing, resulting in numerous violations of IHL.

The Symposium recalled the need to respect the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2286, which bans attacks on medical facilities and workers, calls for the protection of workers/facilities and provides for safe, unimpeded passage for medical and humanitarian personnel. Emphasis was also made on prevention efforts to support safe medical responses and the protection of medical practitioners in urban settings and conflict areas.

Speakers reiterated the call for better training, awareness and public education, as well as increased visibility of medical facilities. The need to consolidate efforts was also underlined in order to build a community of concern and foster a culture of prevention to better safeguard healthcare workers and facilities.

On children and education, participants were reminded of the importance of education in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of education as a basic human right. The situation of children in armed conflict is, however, alarming as they are often out of school and far from achieving a complete education. The issue of child soldiers is particularly alarming. They are innocent victims trapped in difficult situations and are, oftentimes, recruited to form an integral part of the warring party.

The inspiring example of the Philippine Governments efforts to make education accessible to all, including those in conflict areas, with quality education as a norm, was lauded; along with the positive approaches on access to education from Sekolah Cikal and Rumah Main Cikal (Indonesia),?Balay Rehabilitation Centre (Philippines), UNICEF, Save the Children and ICRC.

A powerful statement was made that no education is far more costly than having a bad one. There was a consensus that education is the best way to promote peace and prevent conflict, therefore, the necessity to start incorporating peace education in school curricula was underscored.

ASEAN is taking the issue of education very seriously, looking at root causes and moving forward on the issue of children out of school. It continues to strive against the severe consequences that can result from the lack of education – which eventually fuels the perpetuation of conflict across generations – and violations against children including sexual abuse or violent extremism.

On the protection of vulnerable groups, the Symposium examined minorities/indigenous peoples (IP) and migrants in Southeast Asia as vulnerable groups. Indigenous peoples in conflict areas often face challenges to fully enjoy their rights, resulting in higher crime rates, violence, displacement, poverty, corruption and the like. The consequences of such vulnerabilities are handed down through generations in different parts of the ASEAN region.

Specific problems related to the issue of migration, particularly the missing and the deceased, as well as those in detention, should be addressed collectively. The ICRC other international and local actors are working closely with relevant authorities and stakeholders, including within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, to address these concerns and ensure the protection of vulnerable migrants.

On persons deprived of their liberty, it was emphasized that stronger partnerships between concerned stakeholders and governments are needed to improve the conditions of detention and the treatment of people deprived of their liberty.

The Symposium discussed extensively the ASEAN commitment to the SDGs, as well as international prison standards, legal frameworks and international conventions on human rights which have been ratified by Member States.

ASEAN was also encouraged to create a more cohesive and effective platform for exchanges on humanitarian responses that transcend disaster management. Enhancing data collection and analysis on protection- related concerns through the ASEAN Statistical Unit, was also mentioned.

Finally, it was proposed that ASEAN Member States explore mechanisms to adopt alternative measures to detention, such as community care or service.

Beyond the all too frequent devastating news of hatred, violence and conflict in our world today, the Symposium gathered religious leaders, academics, humanitarian workers, legal and law enforcement officers, ASEAN officials, diplomats, health-care providers, educators and leaders of civil society organizations. Participants remained undaunted by the many complex and brutal faces of war and conflict their strengthened resolve to uplift the human dignity and provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people.

Humanitarian actors agreed on the importance of more dialogues that could bring positive contributions in addressing humanitarian and protection challenges within ASEAN and the world that would lead towards conflict prevention, reconciliation, peace and stability.

Convergences between IHL, human rights and religious norms were affirmed, as well as the need to join efforts among key stakeholders to respect those rules surrounding human dignity and provide humanitarian assistance for those in need, whether in natural or human-induced disasters.

International and local organizations presented best practices to address humanitarian and protection challenges in ASEAN and called for other humanitarian actors to respond to crisis by observing key principles of humanity, i.e. neutrality, impartiality, and independence.


Recommendations included the following:

  1. Acknowledge the convergences that frame different humanitarian thoughts and actions to consolidate common efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, while avoiding duplications.
  2. Build human connections and relationships to encourage cooperation among various stakeholders in the ASEAN region and beyond, through bilateral/multilateral discussions with concerned actors.
  3. Adopt a comprehensive, multi-faceted grassroots approach in addressing contextual challenges. This could help ensure that the support is adapted to the actual needs of the beneficiaries (medical, psychological, legal, physical or economical) and that the assistance provided meets the circumstantial requirements.
  4. Respect and adhere to international/regional agreements, standards and national laws, including local norms, when providing assistance to beneficiaries in times of armed conflict or other situations of violence. Emphasize the need to respect human rights, human dignity and provide appropriate capacity-building to relevant institutions, regulation enforcers, educators and social service providers in order to strengthen protection.
  5. Encourage the ASEAN-IPR to play a role in increasing peoples protection in national and transnational crises, through research, holding dialogues and concrete follow-up initiatives. ASEAN-IPR represents a platform where individuals from different backgrounds whether humanitarian, governmental, religious or private can come together to share perspectives on universal principles that transcend differences, joining in a culture of conflict prevention and reconciliation.
  6. Encourage the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to examine possible interventions in all types of humanitarian crisis, including human-induced disasters.
  7. Systematize operational and thematic discussions with ASEAN Member States and bodies, such as the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN-IPR and AHA Centre to enhance coordination and further strengthen the discourse on key strategic issues in the region, in a timely manner.




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