'Ministry of defence' organizes the 'International Law and the Wars of the 21st Century' conference in the Abu Dhabi

Today, the Ministry of Defense organized the "International Law and the Wars of the 21st Century" conference in the Abu Dhabi Armed Forces Officers Club, under the patronage of His Excellency Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defense Affairs.

The conference was attended by Major General Pilot Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, Commander-in-Chief of Abu Dhabi Police, a group of experts and specialists in military, security and strategic issues and a number of international experts.

His Excellency Muhammed bin Ahmed Al-Bowardi stressed the necessity of updating the rules and standards of international law to enable the achievement of a safer and more prosperous world, where differences and challenges can be managed through clearer and agree upon rules. He indicated that the world, the Middle East region in particular, is being exposed to many wars and tragedies that exhausted international community. These wars had witnessed serious violations against civilians and even military personals, such as indiscriminate killing, torture, genocide, crimes against humanity, excessive use of dangerous weapons and targeting of civilians, and other violations of all human, spiritual and religious values.

His Excellency added that since the end of the Cold War period, the world has witnessed many fundamental changes in the level of security problems and crises and technological and scientific transformations. Nevertheless, the international legal system, as an assumed control of international relations, has remained rigid and has not kept pace with these transformations. Therefore, the development of international law and the advancement of its level to reflect Current developments in international relations have become necessary and urgent. This can be done by balancing technological developments on the one hand and the rights of the individual and the state on the other hand. It is incumbent upon us to work, not only to add new treaties and agreements, but also to do more to ensure that existing agreements are implemented.

His Excellency stressed the UAE’s endeavor to play a leadership role in encouraging international dialogue and cooperation in order to modernize and develop legal texts governing wars in all their forms, and to support capacity building in this field, especially at the regional level. He indicated that “International Law and Wars of the 21st Century” conference comes to confirm the UAE’s commitment to developing the human rights and international law system, and contributes to strengthening the pillars of an international system based on modern legal rules. He added that the conference aims at developing relevant national capabilities and experiences in all state institutions, especially in the military ones, and exchanging experiences with organizations and foreign bodies concerned with international law.

For his part, Major General Pilot Falah Muhammad Falah Al-Qahtani, assistant undersecretary of the ministry of defence for policy and strategic affairs, said that the past twenty years have witnessed changes in the forms of wars and armed conflicts in many parts of the world. He said that the quality of the weapons used in these wars has changed with the increasing technological development and the emergence of new patterns of fighting. The wars of 21st century are not necessarily regular wars where regular armies confront other armies, but they also take the form of regular forces wars against militias, paramilitary forces, gangs, and rebel groups.

He added that economic interests or racial hatred drive wars between these irregular parties rather than national interests or ideologies that were the driving forces of armed conflicts between countries in the past, so that the civilian population, and not the regular forces, have become the main target of the attacks. Most armed conflicts have been fought in densely populated urban areas, where more casualties occur.

He explained that the widespread use of autonomous machines in all military domains, the increasing use of UAVs in operations, the use of cyber weapons, and scientific and technological progress, will bring significant changes to the forms and ranges of wars in the years and decades to come, and will raise the ceiling on the challenges facing the international community.

He stressed that the complex formula of today's and future wars requires that we ask ourselves whether international law in its current form is appropriate to deal with these successive and rapid changes, and flexible enough to protect civilians. If not, what steps should be taken to develop binding rules to ensure framing new forms of wars and protect civilians.

He pointed out the importance of developing and updating the treaties constituting international law to suit the forms of wars of the twenty-first century, by placing restrictions on the warriors of all kinds in order to protect people and civil installations. He also stressed that the UAE will remain loyal to the choice that it has been involved in since its independence, confirming that the UAE since its accession to the United Nations has contributed to many efforts to achieve international peace and security, whether by joining existing agreements and treaties or contributing to the development of new international rules.

Major General Obaid Rashid Al-Hossan Al Shamsi, Head of the Strategic Analysis Executive Directorate in the Ministry of Defense and Chairman of the higher organizing Committee of the conference, stressed that the conference comes within the framework of a series of conferences of leaders for the twenty-first century wars that the ministry has organized annually since 2016. The choice of the subject of international law comes in light of keeping pace with successive variables at the global level, which imposes a new reality that we must know how to deal with at different levels, including the legal aspect.

He said that our world is witnessing a change not only in quantitative, but also qualitative, threats to international peace and security. The number of armed conflicts has increased all over the world compared to the situation during the Cold War period. New patterns of wars have also emerged during which Interior conflicts and dangers related to space security, hybrid wars, proxy wars, the use of information operations and social networks in propaganda and information wars have escalated. He also said that the threat of terrorism has spread throughout the world, indicating that the international scene is witnessing the presence of many entities and armed non-state organizations that receives military and financial support from several countries.

He added that the prevalence of conflicts today is a clear indication of the need to take urgent action. The emerging and new security challenges facing our world today require the development of an innovative legal approach to deal with, and there is no doubt that the interconnected and complex nature of these challenges requires all countries to enhance cooperation among themselves more than ever.

He pointed out that the efforts made to update the texts and legal mechanisms necessary to regulate relations between countries and achieve a safe and stable world in light of these changes requires the involvement of various actors, academics, experts, companies and governmental and non-governmental organizations. It also requires expanding the circle of discussion and open up to various opinions to enrich thinking and knowledge in order to find legal rules necessary to minimize the effects of future wars on states and peoples.

The conference discussed three specialized working papers through a main session, where His Excellency Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al Jarman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for Human Rights and International Law, presented a specialized working paper entitled "Non-State Actors in the Light of the Provisions of International Law". Brigadier Salem Juma Al Kaabi, The Director of Military Justice in the UAE Armed Forces, presented a specialized working paper entitled "Contemporary challenges of international and humanitarian law and the efforts of the United Arab Emirates to address them", and Dr. William Boothby - Associate Fellow at the Geneva Center for Security Policy - presented a working paper entitled "Law cyber warfare."

Speakers from the International Committee of the Red Cross presented a working paper with the participation of Sophie Barbey, head of the ICRC office in the UAE, and Juan Carlos, regional delegate of the armed forces and armed organizations in the Gulf States and Yemen within the International Committee of the Red Cross. The paper entitled "Protection of civilians in contemporary conflicts showed Committee's contribution to developing, clarifying, interpreting, and reaffirming the protection of civilians and regulating the conduct of armed conflict.

His Excellency Ahmed Abdel Rahman Al Jarman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for Human Rights and International Law, spoke about non-state actors in the light of the provisions of international law. He said that this issue is one of the most important features of armed conflict in the twenty-first century, indicating how conflict is managed and the methods and development of means used to counter non-state actors.

Brigadier Salem Juma Al Kaabi, Director of the Military Judiciary in the UAE Armed Forces, presented review of a specialized working paper entitled "Contemporary challenges of international and humanitarian law and the efforts of the United Arab Emirates in addressing them". He said that the challenges of applying international humanitarian law during armed conflicts, protection of the victims of these Conflicts, whether they are wounded, sick, drowned, prisoners of war, civilians, or unable to fight, and the protection of objects and property not directly related to military operations, are contemporary challenges and obstacles during armed conflicts that make properly applying this law on the ground difficult.

He pointed out that those challenges need to be discussed and dealt with by advanced legal texts if international humanitarian cannot respond to them at the present time, due to their recentness on the international scene. The challenges include attacks and terrorist acts during armed conflicts, electronic attacks against infrastructure of other countries, new weapon systems, plundering and preventing humanitarian aid for victims of armed conflict, supporting militia armed with modern weapons from states or organizations against government forces, using the international media to spread false allegations of violations during armed conflicts against a another state, control of conventional weapons during armed conflicts, the increase in the phenomenon of foreign fighters participating in terrorist organizations, he increase in the use of private military and security companies in armed conflicts, and the absence of national legislation regulating the conduct of hostilities and the prosecution of international crime perpetrators in some countries. He also reviewed the efforts of the UAE and military justice, and its distinguished role in the field of international humanitarian law.