On 8 May 2009 at the graduation ceremony for the 2007/2008 course, the Henry Dunant Prize Foundation, in partnership with the Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Geneva (ADH), awarded the 2009 Henry Dunant Prize to Mrs Géraldine Ruiz, author of the outstanding diploma thesis entitled “An Intangible Right? Aerial Bombardment, the Principle of Distinction and Proportionality in Attack: Conceptual Difficulties and Contemporary Issues”. The ceremony took place in the Bungener Hall at the Graduate Institute of International Studies (HEI), at 5.30 p.m.
The Henry Dunant Prize Foundation awards its prize to those whose work is remarkable in that it strives to deepen, expand and renew the ideas or commitments of Henry Dunant. The value of the Prize is 5000 francs.
The Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Geneva was founded in 2002 by the Law Faculty of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International Studies. It is mandated to provide teaching of a high academic standard and to conduct and promote scientific research within fields of international humanitarian law and other branches of international law relating to situations of armed conflict and states of emergency.
The 2009 Henry Dunant Prize was awarded to Mrs Géraldine Ruiz, of French nationality. Her thesis realistically assesses at what point high-altitude aerial bombing gradually became a privileged war method resulting in a growing problem in limiting avoidable civilian losses. The choice of this war method is primarily based on the will of the major powers to limit loss on their side and on a growing use of technology to support this objective. Mrs Ruiz examines attempts by certain experts to compensate for the increasing use of this method by providing an extended definition of “the military objective” which includes the morale of the civil population. In concrete terms, in fact, this would enable a return to the mass bombings of the Second World War which the Geneva Protocols of 1977 intended to make illegal. Mrs Ruiz recommends a firm rejection of this approach as it would weaken the ideals of Henry Dunant, which were to limit the horrors of war. More innovatively, she suggests how the rule of “proportionality in attack”, which prohibits attacks when the civilian losses that would result would be excessive, is complied with in practice. This compliance includes the prohibition on attacks when the extent of the collateral damage is unpredictable, a more precautionary use of precision weapons, a better assessment of the overall situation and above all, greater attention to the precautions to be taken before an attack. In particular, Mrs Ruiz insists on the need for the military authorities to record all acts and decisions taken in order to facilitate independent investigations which would include the civilian, legal and political sections of the population. This would put an end to a long-established excessive confidentiality, which results in avoidance of an actual assessment of what could be done to reduce civilian losses and to reduce potential mistakes and illegal campaigns in the future.
The selection committee was particularly impressed by the originality of the reasoning developed and by the scientific rigour of Mrs Ruiz’s analysis. The impact such work could have on international events should not be underestimated. At the same time, it contributes to advancing the ideals of Henry Dunant.
With this award, the Henry Dunant Prize Foundation and the ADH wish to motivate young people to continue to contribute widely to the dissemination of international rules in favour of the victims of armed conflict and state of emergency situations.