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Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights

23-04-2002 Statement

58th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – Agenda item 19 - 23 April 2002 – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,

First of all, I wish to thank you for once again kindly giving the Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the opportunity to address this Commission and present its activities.

Several days ago the President of the ICRC, Mr Jakob Kellenberger, spoke to you of the importance of a strong political will to uphold respect for international humanitarian law. Pointing out the  ICRC’s belief in the continuing validity of existing law, he stressed that the problem is not so much the lack of rules or provisions or their inadequate adaptation to contemporary armed conflicts, but rather the all too frequent lack of respect for those rules.

However, to ensure respect for international humanitarian law when conflict flares, certain preliminary steps must already have been taken by the authorities in peacetime.

The very purpose of the ICRC Advisory Service is to support efforts by States to adopt national measures for the application of international humanitarian law. Its work consists primarily of providing assistance in the form of legal advice, organizing seminars and meetings of experts and compiling technical files and other specialized documents.  Its main activities also include collecting and supplying information on laws and regulations enacted and on the jurisprudence relating thereto.

While standing ready to assist in all areas of international humanitarian law which require the adoption of national measures, the Advisory Service is at present working in particular on protection of the distinctive emblems and signs, the protec tion of cultural property in times of armed conflict, and the penal repression of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

In order to promote full and effective implementation, the ICRC Advisory Service encourages the formation and supports the work of national committees tasked with incorporating international humanitarian law into national legislation. Such interministerial committees have meanwhile been set up in more than sixty States throughout the world.

Unless a dual mandate has been assigned to one and the same committee, it is important for these committees to work in concert, and even in genuine cooperation, with similar bodies responsible for the implementation of human rights. Not only does responsibility for questions concerning these two branches of law often rest with the same governmental authorities and experts, but the exchange of experience and know-how is bound to prove beneficial to both types of national institution.

To foster interaction and cooperation between the national committees of various countries, several regional meetings have been organized with the help of the Advisory Service, which has also just held a meeting from 25 to 27 March 2002 on a worldwide scale.

Before the national implementation phase is reached, the ICRC Advisory Service encourages ratification of the international humanitarian law treaties. These instruments have now gained extremely wide and almost universal acceptance: 189 States are party to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, while 159 States have subscribed to Additional Protocol I and 152 are party to Additional Protocol II. This coming June will be the 25th anniversary of the two Protocols. The Advisory Service would like to urge the small number of States which have not yet ratified one or other of these instruments to mark the occasion by doing so, and thus demonstrate their commitment to the essential rules for the prot ection of victims of war.

The Advisory Service also promotes ratification of more recent instruments, such as the Ottawa Treaty on anti-personnel mines, the Second Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The Advisory Service moreover hails the entry into force, on 22 February last, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts, and the forthcoming entry into force of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 1 July this year.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the ICRC has been cooperating for many years with the United Nations Centre for Human Rights and, more recently, with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to spread knowledge of international humanitarian law.

Mr Chairman, thank you.