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Switzerland: enforcing humanitarian law nationally

19-11-1998 News Release 98/46

Compliance with international humanitarian law at national level and the punishment of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity were among the issues discussed at a meeting of common law experts held by the ICRC in Geneva last week. The meeting, similar to one convened last year for civil law experts, was attended by distinguished academics, senior members of the military and government officials from 16 common law States.

Participants assessed the type of legislation generally adopted in common law countries and addressed topics such as the role of national military law in enhancing enforcement of humanitarian law and the degree of complementarity between national and international enforcement systems. Discussions also focused on the importance of independent investigations and due process in prosecuting alleged war criminals, especially given the politically sensitive nature of such cases, and on the implications for national legislation of the recently adopted Statute of the International Criminal Court. 

" This meeting marked the beginning of a process of consultation with common law States and provided an opportunity for thought-provoking and enlightening discussions " , said Yves Sandoz, ICRC Director for International Law and Communication. " We hope that similar initiatives will be taken in the future to follow up these important issues and ensure better protection for war victims everywhere. "

All those who attended the meeting were encouraged to keep in touch with one another and with the ICRC Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law, which was set up in 1995 to help governments improve implementation in their countri es. Legal assistance may also be obtained through National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 

A report on the meeting will be published by mid-1999. It will contain practical advice for common law States on how to strengthen humanitarian law through national criminal and military law.