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Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts

02-10-2002 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 57th session, Sixth committee, item 152 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 2 October 2002

Mr Chairman,

The year 2002 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. These instruments considerably reinforced the protection of individuals in international and non-international armed conflicts, by taking into account notably the technological advances made in the area of weapons.

Today, 160 States are parties to the first Additional Protocol and 153 to the second. These encouraging figures allow for the hope that the Protocols will, as soon as possible, attain the same degree of universality that the Geneva Conventions enjoy, with 189 State parties. The ICRC thus appeals to States who have not yet ratified or adhered to these instruments to do so at the earliest possible moment. It is pleased to know that certain States are currently examining this possibility.

The Committee is pleased by recent advances which have developed and reinforced international humanitarian law. These include the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, as well as of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the extension of the scope of application of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to cover non-international armed conflicts.

Humanitarian law has thus demonstrated its dynamism. It is appropriate, however, to regularly take stock of the status of the law, to examine ways in which it could be better respected, clarify its rules, or study possible developments. The ICRC intends to participate in this reflection, with a view notably to avoiding that any normative development weaken ex isting protection standards.

In ICRC's view, the problems currently encountered do not put into question the continued validity of the rules of humanitarian law. They are due less to shortcomings or inadequacy of the rules than to the all too frequent non-respect of existing law. In this regard, it may be recalled that States have an obligation not only to respect, but also to ensure respect for humanitarian law, in all circumstances.

Among other developments tending towards a wider and more homogenous application of humanitarian law, the ICRC welcomes the recent withdrawals, by a certain number of States, of their reservations to certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions, as well as the increasing number of States who have recognized the competence of the International Fact-Finding Commission, in accordance with Article 90 of Protocol I. For its part, the ICRC plans to publish next year its study on customary international humanitarian law, which should contribute to an improved protection of war victims and reinvigorate the debate on the effective application of humanitarian law.

Mr. Chairman,

The effective protection of victims of armed conflict cannot be separated from a strict application of the rules of humanitarian law. In order to promote the best possible implementation, and to discharge the obligations incumbent upon them by virtue of the treaties to which they are parties, States must, already in peacetime, adopt a range of legislative, administrative and practical measures. Thus, they have to equip themselves with legislation which makes it possible to punish those who commit grave breaches and to repress abusive use of the red cross or red crescent emblems. It is also necessary to take concrete steps to protect cultural property, to examine the legality of means and methods of warfare, or to see to it that the rules and principles of humanitarian law are known by all, in particular by those carrying weapons.

The Committee is pleased that such a large number of States - they are more that sixty - have established national commissions on humanitarian law. While the creation of such commissions is not in itself an obligation, the experience shows that these organs very often promote the ratification of humanitarian law treaties as well as the study and elaboration of national measures of implementation.

In March this year, the ICRC organized a world-wide meeting of these national commissions in Geneva. Participants were able to share experience and views on their respective roles and challenges, and establish contacts for future exchange of information. For the same purpose, ICRC's Advisory Services and delegations regularly organize national and regional seminars attended by representatives of national authorities, the judiciary and members of the armed forces. The ICRC further seeks to facilitate the exchange of information between States through a database on the Internet, and to support them by means of legal advice and technical documentation.

To conclude, Mr. Chairman, the ICRC would like to thank those States who contributed to the report of the Secretary-General and reiterate its wish to see the scope of the discussion falling under this agenda item broadened to encompass the entirety of international humanitarian law. Irrespective of the outcome, the ICRC would like to express its great satisfaction that the State representatives gathered here regularly devote their attention to a matter which is in direct relation with the ICRC's purely humanitarian mission.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.