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Comprehensive review of the whole question of peace-keeping operations in all their aspects

16-11-1995 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly 50th session (1995), Fourth Committee, Agenda item 86, Thursday, 16 November 1995, statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Mr Chairman,

For several decades, United Nations peace-keeping operations were limited to their original objective, that is, to maintain or consolidate peace, by measures such as supervising a cease-fire or monitoring demarcation lines.

Today, the operations set up or authorised by the United Nations Organisation are far more numerous and complex. The range of tasks assigned to such operations has been greatly extended, and the circumstances in which they are carried out differ very widely. Moreover, the consent of the parties, hitherto regarded as an essential precondition for deployment of the United Nations forces, has proved uncertain or even non-existent, obliging the " blue helmets " to resort more and more often to force and making them the target of attacks. On a number of occasions these troops have even been called upon to carry out full-fledged military operations.

In implementing these broader mandates, United Nations forces have been faced with entirely new problems relating, for example, to methods and means of combat, detention of prisoners, or protection of the civilian population.

The question of the applicability of international humanitarian law to peace-keeping or peace-enforcement forces, a question that has preoccupied the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for some time, has thus become extremely topical.

The debate on this subject, long confined to a group of specialists, is now of concern not only to the United Nations but also to the whole international community, and particularly to those States that provide contingents.

The ICRC has always taken the view that all the provisions of international humanitarian law are applicable when United Nations contingents resort to force, whereas the United Nations has held the view that it is bound only by the " principles and spirit " of the humanitarian law treaties. These respective positions have been restated many times. Accumulated experience has demonstrated the need for clarification and detailed study of this question. The drafting of the Convention relating to the security of United Nations and associated personnel represents a first step in this direction.

At its April meeting, the Special Committee for peace-keeping operations requested the Secretary-General to " complete the elaboration of a code of conduct for United Nations peace-keeping personnel, consistent with applicable international humanitarian law " .See Doc. A/50/230, par. 73.

Mr Chairman,

On the basis of these deliberations, and in conformity with its mandate " to work for the understanding and dissemination of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts and to prepare any development thereof " ,    See Article 5, par. 2(g), of the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. the ICRC has studied the possible content of such a code of conduct.

For this purpose, it organised two meetings of experts in March and October of this year. The experts - military and academic specialists, former commanders of United Nations forces, and members of the relevant services of the Secretariat - examined all the provisions of humanitarian law from the standpoint of their applicability to peace-keeping forces. This scrutiny focused in particular on the provisions relating to the conduct of hostilities, and to the protection of civilians, detainees and medical personnel.

The result of their deliberations is a document entitled " International humanitarian law for forces undertaking United Nations peace operations " , drawn up during the second meeting of experts. This document, which involves only the ICRC at this stage, will shortly be the subject of informal consultations with the Secretariat; subsequently, it will be formally submitted to the Secretary-General for promulgation.

While not aiming to review the text in detail, we would like to point out that it is intended to define the content and scope of the " principles and spirit " of international humanitarian law by which the United Nations has declared itself bound. To this end, the text sets out a number of basic principles and essential provisions of international humanitarian law relating to all categories of victims protected under this body of law. Moreover, it establishes that United Nations forces are bound to observe these rules from the moment that they resort to the use of force against organised armed forces.

The ICRC is confident that the Secretariat will give favourable consideration to this text, and that it will prove useful. If so, it could be distributed in the near future, in the form of instructions or directives issued to all contingents engaged in peace-keeping or peace-enforcement and among the States contributing troops.

Mr Chairman,

The importance of such dissemination cannot be underestimated.

On the basis of its long experience of armed conflicts, the ICRC is convinced that sound training in international humanitarian law has preventive value and also offers operational advantages, both equally important for forces engaged under the United Nations flag. Such training is, without a doubt, the best guarantee that operations will be conducted in compliance with the law.

In addition, it should be emphasised that only a thorough knowledge of the humanitarian rules can enable United Nations contingents to ensure that these rules are respected by the parties to the conflict and, if necessary, to report violations to the authorities responsible for preventing war crimes and for punishing those who commit them.

For this reason, we consider it important to establish standard procedures for the instruction of United Nations troops and to make sure that every national contingent has received proper training before being deployed. We hope that the document drafted by the ICRC with the help of the experts will provide an appropriate conceptual framework for such measures.

During the past few months, considerable efforts have been made in this direction, both nationally and internationally. These efforts must be continued and intensified.

Dissemination of international humanitarian law among armed forces is one aspect of the ICRC's activities. Although the obligation to disseminate the law is incumbent first and foremost on the United Nations and the States that contribute contingents to United Nations forces, the International Committee of the Red Cross is willing to cooperate, as far as its means permit, in setting up dissemination programmes for the blue helmets.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Ref.: UN(1995)26b)