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Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts

12-05-2011 Interview

The ICRC has ended a round of consultations with States on international humanitarian law. It held the consultations after concluding in a study that IHL should be strengthened in four areas. In a statement to the permanent missions in Geneva today, President Jakob Kellenberger explained what is at stake.

Why does the ICRC think that IHL needs to be strengthened?

The ICRC has always stressed that international humanitarian law (IHL) as a whole remains an appropriate framework for the protection of victims of armed conflicts – whether international or non-international. Even though the rules of IHL are generally adequate, they are often violated. Achieving greater compliance with IHL is therefore a top priority. In addition, certain humanitarian concerns are not adequately addressed by the law in four areas highlighted in the ICRC study – namely the protection of detainees, of internally displaced persons and of the environment in armed conflict, and the implementation of IHL. IHL should therefore be strengthened to better cope with these concerns.

Who took part in the consultations?

All States were encouraged to share their views, and a group of States from around the world participated in bilateral discussions with us. They gave us detailed and useful feedback on the study. We specifically wanted to find out how they felt about strengthening IHL in the four areas identified in the ICRC study.

You addressed the permanent missions in Geneva today. What did you tell them about the consultations?

That States recognized the relevance of IHL and expressed a willingness to continue discussions on how to enhance the protection of detainees and how to better implement IHL. For a number of States it would not be realistic to work on four areas simultaneously. Further consultation and research aimed at strengthening the law to provide greater protection for the environment and internally displaced persons are not considered a priority at this stage. The ICRC will base its next steps on the results of these consultations.

What are the next steps?

In November, the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will take place. This conference will be an important venue for multilateral dialogue on strengthening IHL. The ICRC will submit a report presenting the main conclusions of its study as well as the results of the consultations with States. It will also submit a draft resolution to the International Conference proposing that IHL be strengthened to enhance its implementation and to provide greater protection for detainees.

How do you feel about the outcome of the consultations?

The outcome is encouraging. Although the consultations have shown that some States have different views on certain proposals of the ICRC, overall the States are very interested in exploring new avenues that could be taken to strengthen IHL, and have expressed their willingness to do so. This is important. The ICRC can and does play the role of a catalyst by identifying areas in which IHL should be strengthened, but progress in international law can be achieved only if the States themselves are committed to ensuring this aim is met.




Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC President


Colombia. Choc├│ state, Quibd├│ prison.
© ICRC / C. von Toggenburg / co-e-01006


Kyrgyzstan, Osh. A school that was destroyed during the armed conflict.
© ICRC / M. Kokic / kg-e-00121


Somalia. Lower Shabelle province, displaced family.
© ICRC / M. Dualeh / so-e-00437