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Advisory services in the field of human rights

06-04-1998 Statement

54th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Agenda item 17 - 6 April 1998. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has received a mandate to work for the faithful application of international humanitarian law applicable during armed conflict. It makes considerable efforts within the scope of this mandate to ensure implementation at the national level of the rules set out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, instruments by which virtually all the States are bound.

Given the ever-growing number of violations of the most basic human rights and rules of international humanitarian law in the majority of today's conflicts, a particular effort was made last year to provide legal assistance to countries in the process of adopting or adapting domestic penal law to ensure repression of war crimes by national courts. A meeting entitled " National repression of violations of international humanitarian law " was organized last year (Geneva, 23-25 September) by the ICRC's Advisory Service to bring together experts on civil law systems. Legal guidelines for the implementation of treaty obligations in this realm are in the process of being drafted on the basis of the experts'conclusions. The aim is to help ensure that all States create the conditions needed to enable national judicial systems to repress war crimes by applying the principle of universal jurisdiction, and thus to help put an end to impunity and better uphold the rights of the victims of armed conflict.

Another issue of great importance to which the ICRC's Advisory Service is devoting considerable effort is promotion and legal assistance in the adoption of national laws to protect the red cross and red crescent embl em and to punish its misuse. The emblem is the visible sign displayed by those providing protection and assistance to the victims of conflict. Misuse of the emblem jeopardizes the safety of humanitarian workers, and this has consequences for the victims.

Mr Chairman,

The measures that the States must take in order to comply with their treaty obligations under humanitarian law are varied and complex. To provide a coordinated structure with which to deal with the whole range of issues involved, some States have set up national committees on international humanitarian law. To date, such specific bodies – in the form of interministerial commissions, committees or working groups – have been created in forty-one (41) States worldwide. It is interesting to note that in the countries where they exist, genuine progress towards national implementation of international humanitarian law has been achieved.

The same applies to respect for human rights rules and standards, for which many States have set up national bodies to ensure their implementation. In many cases, it is precisely through specific commissions or groups within them that the national implementation of international humanitarian law is dealt with. It is therefore of the utmost importance to coordinate efforts in this joint endeavour.

For many years the ICRC has cooperated with the Centre for Human Rights on issues related to promoting knowledge of the law. In order to extend this cooperation to cover the national implementation of international standards, the ICRC's Advisory Service took part in the Fourth International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which took place in Merida, Mexico from 27 to 29 November last year. The ICRC is convinced such exchanges of experience and efforts to achieve effective coordination are extremely useful.

The ICRC would like to strengthen its cooperation with the office of the High Commissioner and with regional and national bodies involved in national implementation. We remain eager to place our legal and other expertise at the disposal of those striving to bring about national implementation of international humanitarian law.

The activities of the ICRC's Advisory Service on international humanitarian law unquestionably complement those of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to which the ICRC pays tribute. The Advisory Service will ensure that its activities are coordinated with those of other organizations so that all are compatible and advance the goal of assisting the States with the implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

 Réf. LG 1998-027-ENG