International financial institutions are increasingly involved in conflict situations and countries in which violations of international humanitarian law are widespread and devastating to the civilian population and the countries’ economic prospects. Many argue that structural and political concerns pose obstacles to the development of a role for IFIs in promoting adherence to and enforcement of international humanitarian law. Others, however, suggest that IFIs are well placed to make some contribution to the implementation and enforcement of humanitarian law. In addition, factoring humanitarian law violations into IFI decision-making processes can actually be essential to the effective implementation of their own mandates.
Any policy an IFI enacts in countries marked by conflict and atrocities will send a message about the institution’s level of tolerance for or abhorrence of humanitarian law violations. Because an IFI’s influence makes the very act of engagement, even if on the basis of economic considerations alone, just as symbolic as that of disengagement, placing the financial weight of the IFIs behind international humanitarian law can help to dissuade states and other actors from committing atrocities for fear of losing much-needed financial assistance. In addition, atrocities can have significant and direct economic effects that IFIs should take into consideration, including disrupting the regular functioning of the economy and hindering the reconstruction of the economy after the conflict.
A role for IFIs in the implementation and enforcement of international humanitarian law does not mean that they must always withdraw or reduce funding; rather, it requires that IFIs consider the impact of humanitarian law violations as a factor in making policy and decisions. Existing practice demonstrates that IFIs already do occasionally incorporate these concerns into their analyses and suggests several potential opportunities for IFIs to make a contribution in this area: examining the links between violations of international humanitarian law and prospects for economic growth and stability; sharing information with other international and multilateral organizations; supporting UN Security Council decisions and operations taken under Chapter VII; adopting formal conditionality policies; and applying informal conditionality in the course of daily operations.