Ceasefires in International Law and the Possible Way Forward

In recent times there have been two armed conflicts that forced us to revisit the fundamentals of international law, these are the Ukraine and Gaza conflicts. Both these conflicts have seen rampant violations of international law. The illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories has been one of the most shocking incidents affecting the world order since World War II ended. It sets a dangerous precedent for all independent nations formerly part of big empires from asserting their own identity as sovereign nations as per international and domestic norms.

 International law is dealing with the unique challenge posed by Russia’s defiant behaviour including the acts of claiming exclusive rights and privileges; the need to claim a higher position in the international social hierarchy due to diminished reputation and importance, relative to other nations; and a belief that all these actions are necessary for national prestige, security and wealth. On the other hand, in the Israel Hamas Conflict, it has witnessed numerous violations of international law. Hamas is an Islamist militant movement which was created due to the fact that a group of Palestinians in Gaza believed the Palestinian Authority to be seeking compromise and is often criticised as being ineffective, whereas a violent extremist group in Hamas was dedicated to Israel’s total destruction. It’s act of taking hostages, in particular, violates Article 8 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The total seige of Gaza with electricity, food, and water prohibited is resulting in collective punishment being awarded to all residents of Gaza which is also illegal in international law.  

In both situations, the international community has repeatedly urged for a ceasefire of the wars. In an unprecedented move, the United Nations General Assembly passed a Resolution to urge Israel to ceasefire the Gaza conflict. Though United Nations General Assembly has attempted several times to pass resolutions to stop the Ukraine war but without any success. Any conflict can bring a huge amount of sorrow and loss of property and human life. Therefore, in any conflict, one of the legal words that we often hear is the urge for a ceasefire. The ceasefire is a humanitarian need and unless international communities repeatedly urge Israel and Russia to ceasefire, it will result in a gross violation of human values.  The primary question that we are investigating in this article is the law relating to the ceasefire and what is the possible way forward to ensure that the ceasefires are complied with and not broken multiple times as seen in the ongoing conflicts.

A cease-fire is an agreement that regulates the cessation of all military activity for a given length of time in each area. It may be declared unilaterally, or it may be negotiated between parties to a conflict.  The primary purpose of this is to suspend hostilities over the whole threat of war, usually for an indefinite period. An armistice or a cease-fire does not represent an end to hostilities, only a truce (a temporary suspension of hostilities). Furthermore, they do not reflect a juridical end to the state of war. In this respect, they must not be confused with peace agreements, which do reflect an end to a conflict. Humanitarian law requires that “whenever circumstances permit, an armistice or a suspension of fire shall be arranged, or local arrangements made, to permit the removal, exchange, and transport of those who are wounded or sick as a result of combat” . 

It needs to be emphasized that the ceasefire be linked to a specific point of time to distinguish it from general statements and documents in which parties signal a loose commitment as seen in respect of Afghanistan, where the ongoing humanitarian crisis continues to violate the rights of women, girls, children, and civil society at large. The Taliban, an armed non-state actor as per the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, are ‘individuals and armed groups of diverse backgrounds, motivation and command structures’. With a strong religious and sectarian undertone, their activities continue to evade peace and stability for the people of Afghanistan.

Going forward, the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral institutions need to be democratized to accommodate the differing views considering contemporary geopolitical realities. The inclusive collective security institutions are the need of the hour, and they should be accountable to the international legal framework for inclusive global governance in which ensuring long-term peace through ceasefire in conflicts around the world needs to be prioritized.

[Photo by Wafa, via Wikimedia Commons]

Abhinav Mehrotra is an Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University. His research interests include International law, Human rights law, UN studies, Refugee law, Child rights, and Transitional Justice.

Dr. Biswanath Gupta is an Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University. His research interests include International Law, Air and Space Law. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. 

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