By Dr. Suzannah Linton
The 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions on 12 August 1949 provided an opportunity for reflection on international humanitarian law (IHL). This article continues that reflection and presents some fresh scholarship about and from the Asia-Pacific region. The region’s plurality leads to a complex and diverse landscape where there is no single “Asia-Pacific perspective on IHL” but there are instead many approaches and trajectories. This fragmented reality is, however, not a mess of incoherence and contradiction. In the following pages, the author argues for and justifies the following assessments. The first is that the norm of humanity in armed conflict, which underpins IHL, has deep roots in the region. This, to some extent, explains why there is no conceptual resistance to IHL, in the way that exists with the human rights doctrine. The second is that there has been meaningful participation of certain States from the region in IHL lawmaking. Thirdly, some Asia-Pacific States are among those actively contributing to the development of new or emerging areas relevant to IHL, such as outer space, cyberspace and the protection of the environment in armed conflict. This leads to the unavoidable issue of contradiction. How is it that in a region where such findings can be made (i.e., where there is discernible positivity towards the norm of humanity in armed conflict), there are so many armed conflicts with very serious IHL violations emerging? Should we reflect in a more nuanced way on “norm internalization” and “root causes”? These issues will be considered in the second section of the article. This examination leads to a third and final section, a concluding reflection on what all of this reveals about IHL in the Asia-Pacific. The real challenge for progressive humanitarianism, the author contends, is to traverse disciplines and to build on work done in, on and from the region in order to develop more informed and nuanced approaches to understanding the countries and societies of the region, moving on to study the process of norm internalization, and then developing creative and meaningful strategies for strengthening the links between that internalization, actual conduct on the ground, and norm socialization in the wider community.
Keywords: Asia-Pacific, international humanitarian law, perspectives, diversity, pluralism, norm of humanity in armed conflict, norm internalization, root causes, contradiction, contribution.