Assessment of Customary International LawThe Statute of the International Court of Justice describes customary international law as “a general practice accepted as law”. It is generally agreed that the existence of a rule of customary international law requires the presence of two elements, namely State practice (usus) and a belief that such practice is required, prohibited or allowed, depending on the nature of the rule, as a matter of law (opinio juris sive necessitatis). As the International Court of Justice stated in the Continental Shelf case: “It is of course axiomatic that the material of customary international law is to be looked for primarily in the actual practice and opinio juris of States.” The exact meaning and content of these two elements has been the subject of much academic writing. The approach taken in this study to determine whether a rule of general customary international law exists is a classic one, set out by the International Court of Justice in a number of cases, in particular in the North Sea Continental Shelf cases.
In the assessment of State practice, two separate issues need to be addressed, namely the selection of practice that contributes to the creation of customary international law and the assessment of whether this practice establishes a rule of customary international law.
Selection of State practiceThe practice collected for the purpose of this study, and which is summarised in Volume II, was selected on the basis of the following criteria:
(i) Both physical and verbal acts of States constitute practice that contributes to the creation of customary international law. Physical acts include, for example, battlefield behaviour, the use of certain weapons and the treatment provided to different categories of persons. Verbal acts include military manuals, national legislation, national case-law, instructions to armed and security forces, military communiqués during war, diplomatic protests, opinions of official legal advisers, comments by governments on draft treaties, executive decisions and regulations, pleadings before international tribunals, statements in international organisations and at international conferences and government positions taken with respect to resolutions of international organisations.
The approach to consider both physical and verbal acts as practice follows that taken by leading bodies in the field of international law and by States themselves. The International Court of Justice has taken into consideration official statements as State practice in a number of cases, including the Fisheries Jurisdiction cases, the Nicaragua case, and the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project case.
The International Law Commission has similarly considered verbal acts of States as contributing towards the creation of customary international law. It did so, for example, in the context of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility where it considered the concept of a “state of necessity” to be customary.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has stated that in appraising the formation of customary rules of international humanitarian law, “reliance must primarily be placed on such elements as official pronouncements of States, military manuals and judicial decisions”.
The International Law Association considers that “verbal acts, and not only physical acts, of States count as State practice” and points out that “the practice of the international tribunals is replete with examples of verbal acts being treated as examples of practice. Similarly, States regularly treat this sort of act in the same way.”
Whether physical or verbal, relevant practice only consists of official practice. Hence, the physical acts of parties to armed conflicts contribute only to the creation of rules of customary international law as long as they represent official practice.
Abstention from certain conduct is also noted where relevant. Such omissions will be discussed in more detail below.
(ii) The practice of the executive, legislative and judicial organs of a State can contribute to the formation of customary international law. The State comprises the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The organs of these branches can engage the international responsibility of the State and adopt positions that affect its international relations. In case of conflict between the positions of various organs of a State, the practice is considered internally inconsistent and does not contribute to the formation of customary law.
(iii) Acts do not contribute to the formation of customary international law if they are never disclosed. This is so as long as such acts are not known to other States and, consequently, do not give them an opportunity, if they so wished, to react to them. In order to count, practice has to be public or communicated to some extent. This does not necessarily mean that the practice has to be published or communicated to the whole world, but at least it should be communicated to one other State or relevant international organisation, including the ICRC. States communicate with the ICRC in the context of its international mandate to assist in the implementation of international humanitarian law and the fact that it may “take cognizance of any complaints based on alleged breaches of [international humanitarian law]”. Hence, communications to the ICRC, while often confidential, are not purely private acts and count as State practice.
(iv) Although decisions of international courts are subsidiary sources of international law, they do not constitute State practice. This is because, unlike national courts, international courts are not State organs. Their decisions have nevertheless been included because a finding by an international court that a rule of customary international law exists constitutes persuasive evidence to that effect. In addition, because of the precedential value of their decisions, international courts can also contribute to the emergence of a rule of customary international law by influencing the subsequent practice of States and international organisations.
What States claim before international courts, however, is clearly a form of State practice.
(v) International organisations have international legal personality and can participate in international relations in their own capacity, independently of their member States. In this respect, their practice can contribute to the formation of customary international law. Therefore, this study has included, for example, the UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law as relevant practice, in particular because “the instructions in the Bulletin reflect the quintessential and most fundamental principles of the laws and customs of war”, even though it is recognised that “the Secretary-General did not consider himself necessarily constrained by the customary international law provisions of the Conventions and Protocols as the lowest common denominator by which all national contingents would otherwise be bound”.
In addition, official ICRC statements, in particular appeals and memoranda on respect for international humanitarian law, have been included as relevant practice because the ICRC has international legal personality. The practice of the organisation is particularly relevant in that it has received an official mandate from States “to work for the faithful application of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts and … to prepare any development thereof”. The view that ICRC practice counts is also adopted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which has regarded the organisation’s practice as an important factor in the emergence of customary rules applicable to non-international armed conflicts. In addition, the official reactions which ICRC statements elicit are State practice.
(vi) The negotiation and adoption of resolutions by international organisations or conferences, together with the explanations of vote, are acts of the States involved. With a few exceptions, it is recognised that resolutions are normally not binding in themselves and therefore the value accorded to any particular resolution depends on its content, its degree of acceptance and the consistency of State practice outside it. The greater the support for the resolution, the more importance it is to be accorded. Information on reasons for abstentions or negative votes is therefore indicated in this study where relevant, for such votes are often based on disagreement with certain parts of the resolution and not necessarily with the resolution as a whole. Likewise, statements made by States during debates on the drafting of resolutions constitute State practice and have been included where relevant.
(vii) The practice of armed opposition groups, such as codes of conduct, commitments made to observe certain rules of international humanitarian law and other statements, does not constitute State practice as such. While such practice may contain evidence of the acceptance of certain rules in non-international armed conflicts, its legal significance is unclear and it has therefore been listed under “Other Practice” in Volume II.
Assessment of State practiceState practice has to be weighed to assess whether it is sufficiently “dense” to create a rule of customary international law. To establish a rule of customary international law, State practice has to be virtually uniform, extensive and representative. Although some time will normally elapse before there is sufficient practice to satisfy these criteria, no precise amount of time is required. As stated by the International Court of Justice in the North Sea Continental Shelf cases:
Although the passage of only a short period of time is not necessarily, or of itself, a bar to the formation of a new rule of customary international law on the basis of what was originally a purely conventional rule, an indispensable requirement would be that within the period in question, short though it might be, State practice, including that of States whose interests are specially affected, should have been both extensive and virtually uniform in the sense of the provision invoked; and should moreover have occurred in such a way as to show a general recognition that a rule of law or legal obligation is involved.
(i) The first requirement for State practice to create a rule of customary international law is that it must be virtually uniform. Different States must not have engaged in substantially different conduct, some doing one thing and some another. In the Asylum case, the International Court of Justice was presented with a situation in which practice was not sufficiently uniform to establish a rule of customary international law with respect to the exercise of diplomatic asylum. In this respect, it stated that:
The facts brought to the knowledge of the Court disclose so much uncertainty and contradiction, so much fluctuation and discrepancy in the exercise of diplomatic asylum and in the official views expressed on various occasions, there has been so much inconsistency in the rapid succession of conventions on asylum, ratified by some States and rejected by others, and the practice has been so much influenced by considerations of political expediency in the various cases, that it is not possible to discern in all this any constant and uniform usage, accepted as law.
In the Fisheries case, the International Court of Justice dealt with a similar situation with respect to a ten-mile closing line for bays in which it considered that, although such a line had
been adopted by certain States both in their national law and in their treaties and conventions, and although certain arbitral decisions have applied it as between these States, other States have adopted a different limit. Consequently, the ten-mile rule has not acquired the authority of a general rule of international law.
However, the Court in this case also considered that “too much importance need not be attached to a few uncertainties or contradictions, real or apparent” in a State’s practice when making an evaluation. It is enough that the practice is sufficiently similar. It was on the basis of such sufficient similarity that the International Court of Justice found in the Continental Shelf cases that the concept of the exclusive economic zone had become part of customary law. Even though the various proclamations of such a zone were not identical, they were sufficiently similar for the Court to reach this conclusion.
The jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice shows that contrary practice which, at first sight, appears to undermine the uniformity of the practice concerned, does not prevent the formation of a rule of customary international law as long as this contrary practice is condemned by other States or denied by the government itself and therefore does not represent its
official practice. Through such condemnation or denial, the original rule is actually confirmed. The International Court of Justice dealt with such a situation in the Nicaragua case in which it looked at the customary nature of the principles of non-use of force and non-intervention, stating that:
It is not to be expected that in the practice of States the application of the rules in question should have been perfect, in the sense that States should have refrained, with complete consistency, from the use of force or from intervention in each other’s internal affairs. The Court does not consider that, for a rule to be established as customary, the corresponding practice must be in absolute rigorous conformity with the rule. In order to deduce the existence of customary rules, the Court deems it sufficient that the conduct of States should, in general, be consistent with such rules, and that instances of State conduct inconsistent with a given rule should generally have been treated as breaches of that rule, not as indications of the recognition of a new rule. If a State acts in a way prima facie incompatible with a recognized rule, but defends its conduct by appealing to exceptions or justifications contained within the rule itself, then whether or not the State’s conduct is in fact justifiable on that basis, the significance of that attitude is to confirm rather than to weaken the rule.
This findin is particularly relevant for a number of rules of international humanitarian law where there is overwhelming evidence of verbal State practice supporting a certain rule found alongside repeated evidence of violations of that rule. Where this has been accompanied by excuses or justifications by the actors and/or condemnations by other States, such violations are not of a nature to challenge the existence of the rule in question. States wishing to change an existing rule of customary international law have to do so through their official practice and claim to be acting as of right.
(ii) The second requirement for a rule of general customary international law to come into existence is that the State practice concerned must be both extensive and representative. It does not, however, need to be universal; a “general” practice suffices. No precise number or percentage of States is required. One reason why it is impossible to put a precise figure on the extent of participation required is that the criterion is in a sense qualitative rather than quantitative. That is to say, it is not simply a question of how many States participate in the practice, but also which States. In the words of the International Court of Justice in the North Sea Continental Shelf cases, the practice must “include that of States whose interests are specially affected”.
This consideration has two implications: (1) if all “specially affected States” are represented, it is not essential for a majority of States to have actively participated, but they must have at least acquiesced in the practice of “specially affected States”; (2) if “specially affected States” do not accept the practice, it cannot mature into a rule of customary international law, even though unanimity is not required as explained. Who is “specially affected” will vary according to circumstances. Concerning the question of the legality of the use of blinding laser weapons, for example, “specially affected States” include those identified as having been in the process of developing such weapons. In the area of humanitarian aid, States whose population is in need of such aid or States which frequently provide such aid are to be considered “specially affected”. With respect to any rule of international humanitarian law, countries that participated in an armed conflict are “specially affected” when their practice examined for a certain rule was relevant to that armed conflict. Notwithstanding the fact that there are specially affected States in certain areas of international humanitarian law, it is also true that all States have a legal interest in requiring respect for international humanitarian law by other States, even if they are not a party to the conflict (see commentary to Rule 144). As a result, the practice of all States must be considered, whether or not they are “specially affected” in the strict sense of that term.
This study has taken no view as to whether it is legally possible to be a “persistent objector” in relation to customary rules of international humanitarian law. Apart from the fact that many authorities believe that this is not possible in the case of rules of jus cogens, there are also authorities that doubt the continued validity of this doctrine. If one accepts that it is legally possible to be a persistent objector, the State concerned must have objected to the emergence of a new norm during its formation and continue to object afterwards; it is not possible to be a “subsequent objector”.
(iii) The third requirement is related to the time necessary to form a rule of customary international law through the adoption of virtually uniform, extensive and representative practice. As indicated above, while some time will normally elapse before there is sufficient practice to satisfy these criteria, there is no specific time requirement. It is all a question of accumulating a practice of sufficient density, in terms of uniformity, extent and representativeness.
Back to topThe second requirement for the existence of a rule of customary international law, opinio juris, relates to the need for the practice to be carried out as of right. The particular form in which the practice and this legal conviction needs to be expressed may well differ depending on whether the rule involved contains a prohibition, an obligation or merely a right to behave in a certain manner.
Practice establishing the existence of a prohibition, for example, the rule that it is prohibited to declare that no quarter will be given (see Rule 46), includes not only statements that such behaviour is prohibited and condemnations of instances where the prohibited behaviour did take place, possibly combined with justifications or excuses from the criticised State, but also physical practice abstaining from the prohibited behaviour. If the practice largely consists of abstention combined with silence, there will need to be some indication that the abstention is based on a legitimate expectation to that effect from the international community.
Practice establishing the existence of an obligation, for example, the rule that the wounded and sick must be cared for (see Rule 110), can be found primarily in behaviour in conformity with such a requirement. The fact that it is a legal requirement, rather than one reflecting courtesy or mere comity, can be found by either an expression of the need for such behaviour, or by criticism by other States in the absence of such behaviour. It may also be that, following criticism by other States, the criticised State will explain its abstinence by seeking justification within the rule.
Practice establishing the existence of a rule that allows a certain conduct, for example, the rule that States have the right to vest universal jurisdiction in their courts over war crimes (see Rule 157), can be found in acts that recognise the right to behave in such a way without actually requiring such behaviour. This will typically take the form of States undertaking such action, together with the absence of protests by other States.
During work on the study it proved very difficult and largely theoretical to strictly separate elements of practice and legal conviction. More often than not, one and the same act reflects practice and legal conviction. As the International Law Association has pointed out, the International Court of Justice “has not in fact said in so many words that just because there are (allegedly) distinct elements in customary law the same conduct cannot manifest both. It is in fact often difficult or even impossible to disentangle the two elements.” This is particularly so because verbal acts count as State practice and often reflect the legal conviction of the State involved at the same time.
When there is sufficiently dense practice, an opinio juris is generally contained within that practice and, as a result, it is not usually necessary to demonstrate separately the existence of an opinio juris. Opinio juris plays an important role, however, in certain situations where the practice is ambiguous, in order to decide whether or not that practice counts towards the formation of custom. This is often the case with omissions, when States omit to act or react but it is not clear why. An example of such a situation was analysed by the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Lotus case in which France disputed Turkey’s right to prosecute for a collision on the high seas. France argued that the absence of such prosecutions proved a prohibition under customary international law to prosecute, except by the flag State of the ship on board which the wrongful act took place. The Court, however, disagreed because it was not clear whether other States had abstained from prosecuting because they thought they had no right to do so or because of some other reason, for example, lack of interest or belief that a court of the flag State is a more convenient forum. The Court stated there was no evidence of any “conscious[ness] of having a duty to abstain”.
Another situation of ambiguity was analysed by the International Court of Justice in the North Sea Continental Shelf cases in which Denmark and the Netherlands argued that a customary rule existed requiring a continental shelf to be delimited on the basis of the equidistance principle, inter alia, because a number of States had done so. The Court considered that the basis of the action of those States remained speculative and that no inference could be drawn that they believed themselves to be applying a rule of customary international law. In other words, the States that had delimited their continental shelf on the basis of the equidistance principle had behaved in accordance with that principle but nothing showed that they considered themselves bound by it. It is basically in such cases, where practice is ambiguous, that both the International Court of Justice and its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, have looked in particular at whether they could separately establish the existence of an opinio juris that would indicate that the ambiguous practice in fact counted towards the establishment of customary international law.
In the area of international humanitarian law, where many rules require abstention from certain conduct, omissions pose a particular problem in the assessment of opinio juris because it has to be proved that the abstention is not a coincidence but based on a legitimate expectation. When such a requirement of abstention is indicated in statements and documents, the existence of a legal requirement to abstain from the conduct in question can usually be proved. In addition, such abstentions may also occur after the behaviour in question created a certain controversy, which also helps to prove that the abstention was not coincidental, although it is not always easy to conclude that the abstention occurred because of a sense of legal obligation. A particular example of this problem is abstention from certain conduct in non-international armed conflicts when a clear rule to abstain from such conduct can only be found in treaty law applicable to international armed conflicts. This is, for example, the case for abstention from the use of certain weapons in non-international armed conflicts, when the prohibition of the use of these weapons was agreed to by treaty a long time ago when rules in relation to non-international armed conflicts were not as readily thought about or accepted as they are now. Abstention from such use or of prohibited behaviour is not likely to lead other States to comment, and this is particularly the case in relation to non-international armed conflicts in which other States are not directly affected. The process of claim and counterclaim does not produce as much clarity with respect to non-international armed conflicts as it does with respect to international armed conflicts because in the latter case, two or more States are directly affected by each other’s behaviour, while in the former case, usually only one State is directly affected.
It appears that international courts and tribunals on occasion conclude that a rule of customary international law exists when that rule is a desirable one for international peace and security or for the protection of the human person, provided that there is no important contrary opinio juris. Examples of such conclusions are the finding by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg that the Hague Conventions of 1907 had hardened into customary law, and the finding by the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case that the rule of non-intervention in the internal and external affairs of other States was part of customary international law. However, when there was clear evidence of contrary opinio juris by a number of States, including specially affected ones, international case-law has held that the existence of a rule of customary international was not proven, for example, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in the Nuclear Weapons case on the issue of whether the use of nuclear weapons was illegal, and the ruling of the sole arbitrator in the Texaco v. Libya case on the issue of a possible change in the law relating to compensation for expropriation.
This aspect of the assessment of customary law is particularly relevant for international humanitarian law, given that most of this law seeks to regulate behaviour for humanitarian reasons. In some instances, it is not yet possible to find a rule of customary international law even though there is a clear majority practice in favour of the rule and such a rule is very desirable.
Back to topTreaties are also relevant in determining the existence of customary international law because they help assess how States view certain rules of international law. Hence, the ratification, interpretation and implementation of a treaty, including reservations and statements of interpretation made upon ratification, are included in the study. In the North Sea Continental Shelf cases, the International Court of Justice clearly considered the degree of ratification of a treaty to be relevant to the assessment of customary international law. In that case, the Court stated that “the number of ratifications and accessions so far secured  is, though respectable, hardly sufficient”, especially in a context where practice outside the treaty was contradictory. Conversely, in the Nicaragua case, the Court placed a great deal of weight, when assessing the customary status of the non-intervention rule, on the fact that the UN Charter was almost universally ratified and that relevant UN General Assembly resolutions had been widely approved, in particular Resolution 2625 (XXV) on friendly relations between States, which was adopted without a vote. It can even be the case that a treaty provision reflects customary law, even though the treaty is not yet in force, provided that there is sufficiently similar practice, including by specially affected States, so that there remains little likelihood of significant opposition to the rule in question.
In practice, the drafting of treaty norms helps to focus world legal opinion and has an undeniable influence on the subsequent behaviour and legal conviction of States. This reality was recognised by the International Court of Justice in the Continental Shelf case:
It is of course axiomatic that the material of customary international law is to be looked for primarily in the actual practice and opinio juris of States, even though multilateral conventions may have an important role to play in recording and defining rules deriving from custom, or indeed in developing them.
The Court thus recognised that treaties may codify pre-existing customary international law but may also lay the foundation for the development of new customs based on the norms contained in those treaties. The Court has even gone so far as to state that “it might be that … a very widespread and representative participation in [a] convention might suffice of itself, provided it included that of States whose interests were specially affected”.
The International Law Association has summarised this case-law, stating that a (multilateral) treaty may thus interact in four different ways with custom: it can provide evidence of existing custom; it can provide the inspiration or model for the adoption of new custom through State practice; it can assist in the so-called “crystallisation” of emerging custom; and it can even give rise to new custom of “its own impact” if the rule concerned is of a fundamentally norm-creating character and is widely adopted by States with a view to creating a new general legal obligation. There can be no presumption that any of these interactions has taken place and in each case it is a matter of examining the evidence.
This study takes the cautious approach that widespread ratification is only an indication and has to be assessed in relation to other elements of practice, in particular the practice of States not party to the treaty in question. Consistent practice of States not party has been considered as important positive evidence. Contrary practice of States not party, however, has been considered as important negative evidence. The practice of States party to a treaty vis-à-vis States not party is also particularly relevant.
This study has not, however, limited itself to the practice of States not party to the relevant treaties of international humanitarian law. To limit the study to a consideration of the practice of only the 30-odd States that have not ratified the Additional Protocols, for example, would not comply with the requirement that customary international law be based on widespread and representative practice. Therefore, the assessment of the existence of customary law takes into account the fact that, at the time of writing, Additional Protocol I has been ratified by 162 States and Additional Protocol II by 158 States. Similarly, the assessment of customary law also takes into account the fact that the Geneva Conventions have been ratified by 192 States and this is not repeated in the commentaries.
Lastly, the most important judicial decisions on the customary nature of humanitarian law provisions are not repeated in the commentaries which cite the rules held to be customary. This applies in particular to the finding by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg that the 1907 Hague Regulations “undoubtedly represented an advance over existing international law at the time of their adoption … but by 1939 these rules laid down in the Convention were recognized by all civilized nations, and were regarded as being declaratory of the laws and customs of war”. It also applies to the Nicaragua case, in which the International Court of Justice held that common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions reflected “elementary considerations of humanity” constituting a “minimum yardstick” applicable to all armed conflicts. It further applies to the finding of the International Court of Justice in the Nuclear Weapons case that the great majority of the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions represent customary international law. In the same vein, it is important to stress, though it is not repeated in the commentaries, that with regard to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, there was a “general agreement that the definitions of crimes in the ICC Statute were to reflect existing customary international law, and not to create new law”.
Back to topTo determine the best way of fulfilling the mandate entrusted to it, the ICRC consulted a group of academic experts in international humanitarian law who formed the Steering Committee of the study. The Steering Committee consisted of Professors Georges Abi-Saab, Salah El-Din Amer, Ove Bring, Eric David, John Dugard, Florentino Feliciano, Horst Fischer, Françoise Hampson, Theodor Meron, Djamchid Momtaz, Milan Šahović and Raúl Emilio Vinuesa. The Steering Committee adopted a Plan of Action in June 1996 and research started in October 1996. Pursuant to the Plan of Action, research was conducted using both national and international sources reflecting State practice. Research into these sources focused on the six parts of the study as identified in the Plan of Action:
Principle of distinction
Specifically protected persons and objects
Specific methods of warfare
Treatment of civilians and persons hors de combat
The measure of access to national and international sources largely explains the research method adopted.
Back to topSince national sources are more easily accessible from within a country, it was decided to seek the cooperation of national researchers. To this end, nearly 50 countries were selected (9 in Africa, 15 in Asia, 11 in Europe, 11 in the Americas and 1 in Australasia) and in each a researcher or group of researchers was identified to report on State practice (see Annex I). The Steering Committee selected the countries on the basis of geographic representation, as well as recent experience of different kinds of armed conflicts in which a variety of methods of warfare had been used. The result was a series of reports on State practice. Significant practice of other countries was identified through research into international sources and ICRC archives (see infra).
The sources of State practice collected by the national researchers include military manuals, national legislation, national case-law, instructions to armed and security forces, military communiqués during war, diplomatic protests, opinions of official legal advisers, comments by governments on draft treaties, executive decisions and regulations, pleadings before international tribunals, statements in international organisations and at international conferences and government positions taken with respect to resolutions of international organisations.
The military manuals and national legislation of countries not covered by the reports on State practice were also researched and collected. This work was facilitated by the network of ICRC delegations around the world and the extensive collection of national legislation gathered by the ICRC Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law. The purpose of the additional research was also to make sure that the study would be as up-to-date as possible and would, to the extent possible, take into account developments up to 31 December 2002. In some cases, it has been possible to include more recent practice.
Back to topState practice gleaned from international sources was collected by six teams, each of which concentrated on one part of the study. These teams consisted of the following persons:
Part I. Principle of distinction
Rapporteur: Georges Abi-Saab
Researcher: Jean-François Quéguiner
Part II. Specifically protected persons and objects
Rapporteur: Horst Fischer
Researchers: Gregor Schotten and Heike Spieker
Part III. Specific methods of warfare
Rapporteur: Theodor Meron
Researcher: Richard Desgagné
Part IV. Weapons
Rapporteur: Ove Bring
Researcher: Gustaf Lind
Part V. Treatment of civilians and persons hors de combat
Rapporteur: Françoise Hampson
Researcher: Camille Giffard
Part VI. Implementation
Rapporteur: Eric David
Researcher: Richard Desgagné
These teams researched practice in the framework of the United Nations and of other international organisations, in particular the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity), Council of Europe, Gulf Cooperation Council, European Union, League of Arab States, Organization of American States, Organization of the Islamic Conference and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The practice of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Non-Aligned Movement was also researched. Access to the practice of these organisations was facilitated by the ICRC delegations which maintain contacts with them.
State practice at the international level is reflected in a variety of sources, including in resolutions adopted in the framework of the United Nations, in particular by the Security Council, General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights, ad hoc investigations conducted by the United Nations, the work of the International Law Commission and comments it elicited from governments, the work of the committees of the UN General Assembly, reports of the UN Secretary-General, thematic and country-specific procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, reporting procedures before the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, travaux préparatoires of treaties, and State submissions to international and regional courts.
International case-law was also collected to the extent that it provides evidence of the existence of rules of customary international law.
Back to topTo complement the research into national and international sources, the ICRC looked into its own archives relating to nearly 40 recent armed conflicts, some 20 of which occurred in Africa, 8 in Asia, 8 in Europe and 2 in the Americas (see Annex II). In general, these conflicts were selected so that countries and conflicts not yet dealt with by a report on State practice would also be covered.
The result of this three-pronged approach – that is, research into national, international and ICRC sources – is that practice from all parts of the world is cited. In the nature of things, however, this research cannot purport to be complete. Research for the study focused in particular on practice from the last 30 years to ensure that the result would be a restatement of contemporary customary international law, but, where still relevant, older practice has also been cited.
Back to topUpon completion of the research, all practice gathered was summarised and consolidated into separate parts covering the different areas of the study. This work was carried out by the six international research teams for the part which concerned them. The chapters containing this consolidated practice were subsequently edited, supplemented and updated by a group of ICRC researchers, and are published in Volume II, “Practice”. The reason for publishing such voluminous chapters is twofold. First, those consulting the study should be able to verify the basis in State practice for each rule of customary international law. Each rule in Volume I refers to the chapter and section in Volume II where the practice on which that rule is based can be found. Secondly, it was considered useful to publish the wealth of information that has been compiled. Many practitioners and scholars will thus be able to use the practice gathered for their own professional purposes.
Back to topIn a first round of consultations, the ICRC invited the international research teams to produce an “executive summary” containing a preliminary assessment of customary international humanitarian law on the basis of the practice collected. These executive summaries were discussed within the Steering Committee at three meetings in Geneva (see Annex III). On the basis of this first round of consultations, the “executive summaries” were updated, and during a second round of consultations, they were submitted to a group of academic and governmental experts from all the regions of the world invited in their personal capacity by the ICRC to attend two meetings with the Steering Committee (see Annex III). During these two meetings in Geneva, the experts helped to evaluate the practice collected and indicated particular practice that had been missed.
Back to topThe assessment by the Steering Committee, as reviewed by the group of academic and governmental experts, served as a basis for the writing of the final report. The authors of the study re-examined the practice, reassessed the existence of custom, reviewed the formulation and the order of the rules, and drafted the commentaries. The draft texts were submitted to the ICRC Legal Division, whose members provided extremely helpful comments and insights. Moreover, each Part was reviewed by an additional reader: Maurice Mendelson for the introductory part on the assessment of customary international law, Knut Dörmann for Part I, Theodor Meron for Part II, Horst Fischer for Part III, the Mines and Arms Unit of the ICRC led by Peter Herby for Part IV, William Fenrick for Part V and Antonio Cassese for Part VI. On the basis of their comments and those of the ICRC Legal Division, a second draft was prepared, which was submitted for written consultation to the Steering Committee, the group of academic and governmental experts and the ICRC Legal Division. The text was further updated and finalised taking into account the comments received.
This study was initiated under the supervision of Louise Doswald-Beck, then Deputy Head and later Head of the ICRC Legal Division. Jean-Marie Henckaerts has been responsible for the overall management of the study and drafted Parts I, II, III and V of Volume I. Louise Doswald-Beck drafted Parts IV and VI, as well as Chapters 14 and 32, of Volume I. The introductory parts were drafted by both of them. In drafting the text they received important contributions from Carolin Alvermann, Knut Dörmann and Baptiste Rolle. The authors, jointly, bear the sole responsibility for the content of the study.