Advisory services in the field of human rights
52nd Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Agenda item 17 - 10 April 1996. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross
In 1995 more than 30 armed conflicts were raging throughout the world, a situation made all the worse by the fact that those conflicts were characterized by an ever-increasing number of violations of the most basic rules of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The search for more effective mechanisms to ensure compliance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols is at the centre of current discussions in the field of humanitarian law. Indeed, it is generally agreed that violations of humanitarian law do not stem from a need to adapt its rules to modern warfare, but are the result of the ignorance and the failure to ensure proper implementation of the rules already in force.
For the International Committee of the Red Cross, efforts to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law have always been a major priority. However, despite the considerable work carried out so far, these efforts must be continued and increased if the victims of armed conflicts are to be afforded genuine protection.
Pursuant to the conclusions of various international conferences on humanitarian law, in particular, the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on the Protection of War Victims at its meeting in Geneva in January 1995, the ICRC set up an Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law in charge of providing technical assistance to States in the ir efforts to implement the law at the national level. These efforts have acquired a particular significance today, in the light of the steps that the international community has taken to establish ad hoc international tribunals to repress war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and its efforts to establish a permanent international criminal court.
These initiatives at the international level should be accompanied, at national level, by the adoption of legislation, internal rules of application and all the necessary practical measures to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected. To this end, the ICRC's Advisory Service will actively support efforts by national authorities to:
- translate the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols into national languages;
- incorporate, where necessary, international humanitarian law into national legislation;
- adopt criminal legislation to repress war crimes;
- adopt legislation guaranteeing respect for the red cross and red crescent emblem.
Although the Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law was set up within the framework of the ICRC, it operates in a decentralized manner with the assistance of legal experts based on each continent who maintain regular contact with the authorities concerned and take due account of the reality in each country.
The Advisory Service recently opened a documentation centre at ICRC headquarters in Geneva, which gathers and stores information on legislation, rules of application, dissemination and educational activities relative to international humanitarian law. It is our hope that the centre will serve to facilitate and promote an ongoing exchange of information.
This recent initiative by the ICRC complements the acti vities of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, whose success the ICRC pays tribute to. The ICRC will coordinate its activities with those of the Centre for Human Rights in order to avoid a duplication of efforts and to better assist States in the implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law.
We should like to stress here, Mr Chairman, that the specific purpose of humanitarian law is to protect the individual against arbitrary treatment by enemy forces in situations of armed conflict. The field of application of humanitarian law, which relates only to exceptional situations, is thus far more restricted than that of human rights.
There are nevertheless close ties between human rights and international humanitarian law and concerted action is often the best way to ensure that national legislation is adequate to guarantee protection for the individual in all circumstances. The advisory services of the Centre for Human Rights and the ICRC should endeavour, either at the request of the authorities concerned or simply with their consent, to coordinate their activities.
In order to ensure respect for international humanitarian law it must be known by those who are bound to apply it. The State Parties to the Geneva Conventions are obliged to disseminate the Conventions as widely as possible and, in particular, to include them in the training programs of the armed forces. However, the reality is that in practice much remains to be done before knowledge of the law becomes widespread.
The International Committee of the Red Cross makes considerable efforts to disseminate humanitarian law among the groups most concerned by it, especially the armed forces. These activities provide support to the authorities seeking to fulfil their obligation to spread knowledge of the law.
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, allow me to stress once again that there can be no respect for human rights during armed conflicts without respect for international humanitarian law. Further, allow me to emphasize that respect for humanitarian law, during times of conflict, cannot be achieved if States do not adopt, during times of peace, the necessary measures to guarantee respect for the human person in all circumstances.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.