Strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL): The work of the ICRC and the Swiss government.
Insufficient respect for applicable rules is the principal cause of suffering during armed conflicts. The The ICRC and the Swiss government are currently undertaking a major consultation process on how to improve compliance with IHL by developing stronger international mechanisms.
What is this initiative?
The ICRC and the Swiss government are undertaking consultation and research on possible ways to improve compliance with IHL through the establishment of more effective international mechanisms. This work forms part of the ICRC's broader project on Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflict.
Why the focus on compliance with IHL?
Unfortunately, IHL continues to be violated frequently by both States and non-State armed groups. If IHL was better respected, there would be less suffering. At present, for example, IHL lacks effective means of identifying, preventing and halting violations while they are occurring. The mechanisms within IHL that do exist are rarely, if ever used. Moreover, they are only applicable in international armed conflict, whereas the majority of conflicts are now non-international.
The consultation process so far
Pursuant to Resolution 1 of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (2011), the ICRC and the Swiss government are facilitating consultations with States and other relevant actors. This has involved bilateral and multilateral meetings, including:
- July 2012: initial informal Meeting of States on Strengthening Compliance with IHL (Concluding remarks, Background document )
- November 2012: a meeting with a group of States from different regions (Background document and Chairs' conclusions)
- April 2013: a further meeting with this group of States (Background document and Chairs' conclusions)
- June 2013: second Meeting of States on Strengthening Compliance with IHL (Background document; Opening speech, ICRC President Peter Maurer; Opening speech, Swiss Federal Councillor, Mr Didier Burkhalter, and Chairs' conclusions). States have agreed that IHL lacks effective compliance mechanisms and that this is an area needing further work. So far, the consultations have discussed: current IHL compliance mechanisms; lessons to be drawn from compliance systems under other bodies of law, and the functions of an effective IHL compliance system. Functions considered include: a regular dialogue among States; periodic reporting; thematic discussions; fact-finding; early-warnings; urgent appeals, good offices, non-binding legal opinions and others. States have identified four priority areas for further consideration: periodic reporting; thematic discussions; fact-finding and a regular meeting of States.
- December 2013: preparatory discussion on Strengthening compliance with IHL (Background document; Chairs’ conclusions)
- On 3 and 4 April 2014, another preparatory discussion on Strengthening compliance with IHL will be held in Geneva, open to all States. This meeting will primarily discuss issues related to the third meeting of States, touch on fact-finding, and revisit some questions discussed at the December 2013 preparatory discussion.
- On 30 June and 1 July 2014, the third meeting of all States will be held in Geneva, to consider the results of these two preparatory meetings and discuss next steps. These meetings will be complemented by bilateral consultations with States and other relevant actors.