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ICRC database on customary international humanitarian law: new update of State practice

11-12-2012 News Release 12/244

Geneva (ICRC) –– On 12 December, the ICRC will make available on its online Customary IHL database an update of State practice of 23 countries relating to armed conflicts and humanitarian issues such as the distinction between combatants and civilians, the use of certain weapons, the protection of internally displaced persons, the legal framework for internment and detention in armed conflict, recruitment of child soldiers, and serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) that amount to war crimes.

The following countries are included in the forthcoming update: Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Djibouti, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Serbia, the former State of Serbia and Montenegro, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Viet Nam.

"The database now includes national practice of 90 countries up to the end of 2007," said Els Debuf, the ICRC's head of project for customary international humanitarian law. "The idea is to make the rules of customary international humanitarian law and the practice of States easily accessible by everyone interested in the interpretation and application of IHL."

The formation of customary law is an ongoing process, as practice keeps evolving. That practice – both national and international – therefore has to be updated regularly to identify the rules of customary law, monitor their potential evolution and assess the extent to which they enhance protection for victims of armed conflict by confirming or filling in gaps in treaty-based law.

"Customary international humanitarian law is a set of rules that come from a general practice accepted as law," Ms Debuf added. "A State does not have to formally accept a customary rule in order to be bound by it. If the practice on which a rule is based is widespread, representative and virtually uniform then that rule is binding on all States."

The database, which is accessible free of charge, is updated through a partnership between the ICRC and the British Red Cross. ICRC delegations and a number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies gather source material, which is then analysed and processed by a research team based at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge, under ICRC supervision. The information stored in the database is easily accessible by means of three search parameters: subject matter, type of practice and country.

Further updates of both national and international practice covering the period 2008-2010 will be issued throughout 2013 and 2014.

For further information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18