The Center for International Law (CenterLaw) said today Syrian rebels who have surrounded Filipino soldiers who are part of the UN contingent of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and threaten to hold them hostage violate the latter’s protected status under international law .
“UN peacekeepers have been deployed not to take part in hostilities as combatants but to maintain international peace and security under the UN Charter,” said lawyer Romel Bagares, Executive Director of the non-profit dedicated to the promotion of international legal norms in Asia and the Philippines. “They therefore remain protected as civilian non-combatants and are not to be targeted nor taken as prisoners of war by any of the parties to the hostilities.”
Bagares appealed to the Syrian rebels to respect the Geneva Conventions granting protected status to UN peacekeepers, warning that they may be prosecuted for war crimes if they insist on ignoring the distinction between peacekeepers and combatants under the law on armed conflict and attack the UN peacekeepers.
He said three rebel commanders in Sudan are now being prosecuted before the International Criminal Court for leading an attack on African Union peacekeepers in Darfur.
“All persons who are neither members of the armed forces of a party to the are entitled to protection against direct attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.,” said Bagares.
Intentionally directing attacks against a peacekeeping mission is a crime under the Rome Statute, which created the world’s first permanent international criminal tribunal.
In this case, it is clear that the Filipino soldiers had been deployed under the color and authority of the UN and are readily distinguishable from combatants in the conflict for that reason, according to the lawyer.
He added that the Filipino peacekeepers have a recognized right to self-defense under international law and may use force to protect themselves from any attack.