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ECOWAS Commits To Enhancing International Humanitarian Law

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), organised the 19th/2022 Annual Review Meeting of the ECOWAS Regional Network of National Focal Institutions on Implementation of International Humanitarian Laws (RNNI-IHL), from September 12 to 14, 2023, at the Headquarters of the ECOWAS Commission, Abuja, Nigeria.

The meeting was focused on the theme of protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Member States were charged to respect International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) during armed conflicts, and were also encouraged to establish or operationalise National Institutions for the implementation of IHL in their various countries, as well as ratify, domesticate, and implement all Treaties. The function of International Humanitarian Law in ensuring the safety and dignity of the most vulnerable persons in times of armed conflicts was reaffirmed. 

The Commissioner, Human Development and Social Affairs, Fatou Sow Sarr, represented by the Principal Program Officer, Drug Prevention and Control Division, Daniel Amankwaah, expressed the Commission’s delight with the sustained commitment of the Member States, as well as the support of the ICRC towards the implementation of the ECOWAS Plan of Action on IHL, despite obvious challenges. 

She informed the participants that this year marks the conclusion of the current ECOWAS Plan of Action on IHL, and encouraged participants to use the opportunity provided by the Annual Review Meeting to reflect on what progress has been recorded, the pitfalls faced, key lessons learned, and to take a decision on the way forward about the implementation of the Plan of Action. She ended her speech by reiterating the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to improving the security and protection situation in the region. 

Other speakers at the Opening Ceremony include the ICRC accredited Representative to ECOWAS,  Yann Bonzon. He reiterated the importance of respect for IHL in the region and solicited for the continued commitment of the participants in the implementation of IHL Treaties. The Office of the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to ECOWAS was represented by Mohammed Suleiman Isa, who also declared the meeting open. 

The meeting featured reporting by Member States on the implementation of ECOWAS IHL Plan of Action (2019-2023) and 2022 National IHL Priorities; and Outlook on 2023 IHL Priorities. Presentation on a range of thematic areas geared towards the protection of Internally Displaced Persons were delivered. The sessions included preventing and responding to internal displacement in West Africa; with sub themes on internal displacement and humanitarian consequences, contemporary challenges to internal displacement in West Africa, and Improving the protection of and assistance to IDPs. A major focus was on the domestication and implementation of the Kampala Convention by Member States. 

Participants at the meeting agreed on the need for the establishment and operationalization of National IHL Commissions, to translate IHL instruments and the ECOWAS IHL Plan of Action into National Action Plans and effectively implement such plans. Critical recommendations included that Member States should ensure completion of reporting on IHL Implementation to ECOWAS and the ICRC, integrate durable solution considerations from the outset when responding to situations of displacement, and that IDPs, refugees and host communities, be included in consultations and decision making on assistance and protection responses, as well as durable solutions. At the end of the meeting, the Member States chose to extend the duration of implementation of the ECOWAS Regional IHL Plan of Action (2019-2023) for an additional period of 3 years, until December 31, 2026. The meeting also agreed on the preparation of a report on the implementation of the ECOWAS pledge from the 33rd International Conference and submit same by June 2024. 

In closing, the ECOWAS Director of Humanitarian and Social Affairs, Sintiki T. Ugbe, represented by Olatunde Olayemi, Program Officer, Social Dimension of Trafficking in Persons, reiterated its commitment to supporting all Member States in the implementation of IHL and in improving the protection and human security fortunes for all ECOWAS citizens and for all persons within the ECOWAS space. The Deputy Head of Delegation of the ICRC, Rafiullah Qureshi, congratulated ECOWAS and the Member States for very engaging discussions and excellent outcomes and recommendations, and pledged the continued support of ICRC to ECOWAS and the Member States towards the realization of the recommendations. The Representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abimbola Ajileye, in closing the meeting, thanked all participants for their excellent contributions and urged all stakeholders to continue working for a better region.  

Participants at the Meeting included ECOWAS Member States IHL Experts, Staff of the Directorate of Humanitarian and Social Affairs of the ECOWAS Commission, Personnel of the ICRC, and participants from the UNHCR and the AU.     

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