65th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

25th session, Human Rights Council

With the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948 and, a year later, of the four Geneva Conventions, the international community unequivocally stated its intent that never again would the world stand by as crimes shocking to the conscience of humanity were perpetrated against individuals and groups. When they become bound by these instruments, the States party to them undertake to prevent and punish war crimes and genocide.

As we take stock over 60 years later, we can honestly say that much has been achieved to put an end to atrocities such as those witnessed during the Second World War. However, much remains to be done to ensure that the objectives of these Conventions are truly achieved and the protections they afford are effective.

Beyond the universal acceptance of the Geneva Conventions and the obvious need for universal adherence to the Genocide Convention, as well as to the Protocols of 1977 additional to the Geneva Conventions, efforts are still needed on many fronts to enable their effective implementation by States and full compliance with them.

From a preventive perspective, it is essential that all weapon-bearers – be they members of State armed forces or members of non-State armed groups – who are able to do violence to others, should understand and comply with the minimum standards of conduct set out in these treaties. This goal can be achieved in part through training and dialogue with the weapon-bearers themselves, but also by imbuing military commanders and their civilian superiors, as well as their equivalents in armed groups, with a true sense of responsibility, and by holding them personally accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

It is also incumbent on States to ensure that if it becomes apparent there is a risk of genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law, the potential perpetrators should be denied the means to commit these crimes. The ICRC therefore welcomes the adoption in 2013 of the Arms Trade Treaty and urges the States that have not yet bound themselves by this important instrument to ratify it without further delay.

The ICRC firmly believes that prevention can also be achieved through punishment, by holding perpetrators of genocide and war crimes criminally responsible for their actions. In this regard, the legacies of the ad hoc UN International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in bringing a sense of justice and reconciliation to the communities affected must be recognized. Likewise, the important work of the International Criminal Court in trying individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity where States are unable or unwilling to do so is pivotal in ending impunity.

Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic to rely on international justice mechanisms for dealing with all future cases of genocide and war crimes. Instead, and as the drafters of the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions intended, States bear the primary responsibility for bringing offenders to justice.

It is only through a concerted and integrated approach that the goals of the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions can be achieved. Perpetrators of such crimes must not be allowed to slip though the gaps left by inadequate legislation or insufficient jurisdictional reach.

The ICRC is encouraged by the high degree to which these Conventions have been implemented at the national level. This only strengthens its determination to urge those States that have not yet done so to adopt domestic legislation to criminalize genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and to establish, where necessary, the appropriate investigative, prosecutorial and judicial structures needed to handle such complex cases.

And the ICRC continues to call upon States to include within their legal framework the possibility of prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of international crimes by way of universal jurisdiction.

In conclusion, the ICRC would like to reiterate its readiness to contribute – in particular through its Advisory Service on international humanitarian law – to any future efforts by the United Nations to achieve these aims.