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Implementation meeting on human dimension issues organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

28-11-1997 Statement

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Subsidiary Working Body 1, Warsaw, 12-28 November 1997. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross on international humanitarian law

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would like to thank the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for giving it this opportunity to express its views on international humanitarian law and to convey its concerns to the participating States of an organization which has repeatedly displayed its interest in that body of law and demonstrated its support for the ICRC.

The major challenge facing humanitarian law today is undoubtedly the issue of implementation. The contrast is particularly striking between the extremely detailed rules of humanitarian law, many of which are universally accepted, and the constant violations of those rules in the conflicts raging across the globe.

Fortunately, States appear to be aware of the gravity of the situation and of the need to remind the various groups bearing weapons that they cannot resort to violence without any discrimination. The first priority, therefore, is to forestall and limit violations of humanitarian law. Major progress is being made at the international level, in particular as we approach the end of the United Nations Decade of International Law in 1999, the centenary of the 1899 International Peace Conference held at The Hague, and the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The main objectives of the work being done are closely related to the ICRC's own efforts to ensure fuller implementation of and greater respect for existing law.

For the ICRC, seeing that practical measures are taken to ensure that States discharge their obligation to respect and ensure respect for humanitarian law remains an absolute priority. In order to follow up a recommendation of the 26th In ternational Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in Geneva in 1995, the ICRC has set up an Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law.

The aim of this service, which works in close cooperation with governments and international organizations including the OSCE and the Council of Europe, is to raise awareness of the importance of national implementation measures, to provide specialist advice and to encourage the exchange of information and experiences. The specific needs of States are always taken into consideration. The emphasis is placed on local expertise and on the situation in each country.

The ICRC welcomes the cooperation established with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in this field and, as already indicated, wishes to maintain it. A report on this cooperation and its results, in particular in the Baltic States, Moldova and Ukraine, has been distributed. These States have already adopted a number of practical legislative and administrative measures which can only encourage us to pursue this course.

We can safely say that the OSCE participating States give due prominence to the implementation of humanitarian law since they undertake, in several paragraphs of the Code of Conduct relating to the political and military aspects of security, to take measures to spread knowledge of the law, particularly within the armed forces, and to ensure that it is implemented. Recommendations adopted at the Follow-up Conference on the Code of Conduct held in Vienna in September 1997, in which the ICRC was invited to participate, confirmed the importance which the participating States attach to this question.

There has been another encouraging development in this field: the Swiss government has convened the first periodic meeting of the States party to the Geneva Conventions in order to discuss general problems relating to implementation. For this first meeting, d ue to take place from 19 to 23 January 1998, two major issues have been chosen for consideration, namely the security of humanitarian personnel and respect for humanitarian law in countries where State structures have collapsed. The ICRC encourages the OSCE participating States to take an active part in this event, and trusts that the discussions will be fruitful.

Another important question directly linked to the implementation of humanitarian law is that of the repression of war crimes. This is a matter of the utmost concern to the ICRC, which has been closely involved in recent developments. In this connection, it welcomed the creation of the two ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

Even more important, the ICRC continues to give its full backing to efforts aimed at the rapid establishment of an independent and effective permanent international criminal court; indeed, it regards this initiative as a crucial measure for putting an end to impunity. The ICRC would like to insist once again that the court must have inherent jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide, and wishes to stress how important it is that the court be competent to deal with war crimes committed in non-international armed conflicts.

As regards the development of humanitarian law, the adoption in Oslo by some 90 States - including   most of the OSCE participating States - of a new treaty imposing a total ban on anti-personnel landmines represents extraordinary progress, as regards not only the actual substance of the treaty but also the process which led to its being formulated. The States opted for a new approach: instead of waiting for a consensus to emerge to draw up new rules, as is the usual practice in disarmament and arms control issues, they preferred to press on although a consensus had not yet been reached, in accorda nce with the methods traditionally used for humanitarian law. The " Ottawa process " is full of lessons both for the future development of humanitarian law in the face of rapid technological advances and with regard to the nature of conflicts and the role of humanitarian organizations.

To conclude, the ICRC is pleased that during the past year it has been able to pursue a regular dialogue with a regional organization such as the OSCE on respect for international humanitarian law. The measures taken, including the adoption of resolutions encouraging States to respect and implement humanitarian law at national level, are all the more crucial in view of the increasingly important role being played by regional organizations in maintaining peace and security.

[Ref.: LG 1997-140-ENG ]