The International Committee of the Red Cross and the promotion of international humanitarian law: Looking back, looking forward

In a globalizing world marked by geopolitical upheaval, unprecedented threats to human security, new forms of violence and technological revolutions, particularly in the area of information technology, it is no simple task to raise awareness of international humanitarian law (IHL) applicable to armed conflict and ensure that warring parties comply with this body of law. This article traces the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross's (ICRC) work in promoting IHL from 1864 to the present, juxtaposing this history with important events in international relations and with the organization's (sometimes traumatizing) experiences that ultimately gave rise to innovative programmes. The article summarizes lively debates that took place at the ICRC around such topics as the place of ethics in the promotion of IHL, respect for cultural diversity in the various methods used to promote this body of law, and how much attention should be devoted to youth – as well as the most effective way to do so. The author concludes by sharing her personal views on the best way to promote IHL in the future by drawing on the lessons of the past.

Keywords: international humanitarian law, history, dissemination, promotion, integration, implementation, education, prevention, culture, ethics.

About the author

Marion Harroff-Tavel
Political Adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC))

Marion Harroff-Tavel holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts. She has 34 years of experience in the humanitarian sphere with the International Committee of the Red Cross, where she held both management and research positions. Her operational work centred on conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia; for a time she was Deputy General Delegate for this region in the Department of Operations. During her career at the ICRC she also served as Head of the Division for the Promotion of International Humanitarian Law and Deputy Director of the Department of International Law and Cooperation within the Movement, which oversaw the work of promoting international humanitarian law. She spent the last seven years of her career at the ICRC analyzing global trends in armed violence with the aid of a network of contacts in universities and strategic research centres. As political adviser responsible for analysing future trends in armed violence, she drew the attention of the ICRC’s upper management and Assembly to emerging challenges.