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How the ICRC helps States sign up to IHL treaties – and implement them

27-10-2010 Legal Fact Sheet

International Treaties and Conventions create obligations between countries ('States').  Once the text of a treaty is finalized, it usually remains open for signature by States for a specified period.  States sign treaties to show that they agree with the object of the treaty, often with the intent to subsequently ratify it and become 'States Parties'. They agree not to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty between signature and ratification.

A State then ratifies the treaty in order to be bound by its obligations and does so by sending a letter to the depositary for the treaty (e.g. the UN Secretary-General or the Depositary State), usually after completing the necessary domestic legal steps.

If a State did not sign the treaty while it was open for signature, the State may nevertheless become a party to the treaty by 'acceding' to it, in a one-step procedure, by sending a letter to the depositary indicating its willingness to be bound.

To this end, the ICRC's Advisory Service has created model instruments for the ratification of or accession to international humanitarian law treaties by States.

Once a State has decided to accept the obligations that flow from an international treaty, in most cases there is the requirement to put in place domestic measures, including legislation to fulfil these obligations. States are, for example, often required to prohibit certain acts and to create penalties for breaches of those prohibitions.

This can be a difficult task, especially where there is a lack of resources or expertise. The idea of a framework or template can make the task easier, so in order to assist States in enacting national legislation the ICRC's Advisory Service has developed a set of model laws for the implementation of IHL treaties.