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Grasp of humanitarian law crucial to relief work - MSF

Understanding the language of humanitarian law is essential to effectively protect those most in need of assistance, relief workers said on Sunday.

Speaking at the launch of the first Arabic-language edition of the “Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law” in United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital Abu Dhabi, officials from international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) stressed the need for those involved in conflict resolution to better understand their roles.

“The strength of law relies on adequate qualification of events and situations,” said Francoise Saulnier Bouchet, author of the book.

“If you use the wrong word, you deprive people from the adequate rights protecting them.”

She added that the book was intended to clarify and elaborate on international humanitarian law, explaining the aim and spirit of each law in specific and easily understood terms.

Bouchet said: “We play with life and death when we play with the words of humanitarian law.”

“After being translated into six languages, the Arabic version of this dictionary gives an added dimension to our knowledge,” said Fredrick Finio, MSF executive director in UAE.

“This translation will enable us to use and refer to the same language and principles when dealing with armed conflict and humanitarian efforts to limit suffering and human destruction.”

Bouchet noted that the Arabic translation of the book was particularly important in light of the current debate over disparities between Islamic law and international law – a debate which she described as “counterproductive.”

“Humanitarian law is that part of international law which defines the core values of humanity,” she said. “It reflects all cultural and religious values.”

Bouchet added, with the nature of conflict evolving from a “balance of terror between great powers” to today’s “instability of terror,” it was important that humanitarian organisations were able to find support and retain the ability to relieve the extreme suffering associated with the world’s many conflicts.

“It’s also important that humanitarian organisations are able to defend humanitarian values without being targeted themselves,” she added.

Entirely funded by Asma Saddique al-Mutawa, an Emirati national and MSF volunteer, the Arabic version seeks to bridge the language gap in international humanitarian law.

The book has already been translated into six languages in an effort to maximise its international exposure.

Under the patronage of UAE Minister of Education Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahayan, MSF seeks to provide medical assistance to victims of crises, natural or of human origin, in the region.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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