Strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law: The work of the ICRC and the Swiss government.

22 July 2016

Insufficient respect for IHL may be said to be the principal cause of suffering during armed conflicts. Between 2012 and 2015, the ICRC and Switzerland conducted a major consultation process with States on how to improve compliance with IHL. They are currently facilitating a State-driven intergovernmental process, which represents the next phase of work.

Why the focus on respect for IHL?

Unfortunately, IHL continues to be violated frequently by both State and non-State parties to armed conflict. At present, IHL lacks effective mechanisms to ensure respect for its rules. Indeed, existing mechanisms have rarely, or never, been used. Moreover, they are only applicable in international armed conflict, whereas the majority of armed conflicts nowadays are non-international in nature. In view of this situation, Resolution 2 of the 32nd International Conference recognized "the imperative need to improve compliance with IHL".

What do we mean by respect for IHL?

Respect for IHL can be understood broadly as observance and implementation of IHL. The intergovernmental process that is now under way aims to strengthen respect for IHL by enhancing the effectiveness of existing mechanisms where possible and examining the potetntial creation of new ones. This effort is therefore distinct from a wider range of activities aimed at promoting respect for IHL, including various prevention activities, international dispute settlement and international criminal justice mechanisms.

The 2012-2015 consultation process

Pursuant to Resolution 1 of the 31st International Conference, between 2012 and 2015 the ICRC and the Swiss government engaged in research and facilitated consultations with and among States on possible ways to improve the effectiveness of mechanisms of compliance with IHL. This effort included nine meetings of States, in which over 140 States participated; the drafting of background documents for each meeting and the chair's conclusions; and the preparation of the Concluding Report summarizing the joint Swiss-ICRC initiative. It also involved bilateral, regional and other levels of outreach to States and other stakeholders, including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The process led to the adoption of Resolution 2 at the 32nd International Conference.

Next steps

Resolution 2 of the 32nd International Conference recommended that the inclusive, State-driven intergovernmental process based on the principle of consensus (and a number of other agreed principles) be continued. The aims are to find agreement on the features and functions of a potential forum of States and to find ways to enhance the implementation of IHL using the potential of the International Conference and IHL regional forums. According to this resolution, the outcome of this intergovernmental process, which is being facilitated by the ICRC and the Swiss government, is to be submitted to the 33rd International Conference.