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South Africa: law against war crimes adopted

24-07-2012 News Release 12/155

Pretoria (ICRC) – South Africa has adopted the Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act, which gives domestic force to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols.

These instruments are at the core of international humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflict. The conventions and their protocols limit the means and methods of warfare. They also provide protection for persons not, or no longer, taking part in hostilities, such as civilians and health workers, wounded soldiers and prisoners of war.

"All States that have ratified the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are required to adopt legislation to implement their provisions, and South Africa has now taken this step by adopting the Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act," said Gherardo Pontrandolfi, head of ICRC regional delegation in Pretoria. "The domestication of these instruments constitutes an important step in South Africa's compliance with its obligations under international humanitarian law. It demonstrates South Africa's commitment to the principles of this body of law."

South Africa ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions on 31 March 1952, and their 1977 Additional Protocols on 21 November 1995. On 28 November 1980, Oliver Tambo, then president of the African National Congress (ANC), signed a declaration in Geneva affirming the ANC’s adherence to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I.

The Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act creates offences for breaches of the conventions and protocols, including grave breaches, the most serious crimes, which amount to war crimes. The act provides for measures to be taken to prevent the commission of grave breaches and provides for the prosecution of those accused of committing such crimes, whatever nationality they may hold and wherever the alleged violation may have taken place. The act therefore introduces, for the first time in South Africa, the principle of unlimited universal jurisdiction.

For further information, please contact:
Otae Mkandawire, ICRC Pretoria, tel: 082 414 69 95