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ICRC Special report: Stemming the tide of violenceICRC activities in relation to the international community's prevention strategies






A war zone. A nurse feeding starving children, a man with a Red Cross badge talking to a frightened prisoner, a surgeon operating on a blood-stained soldier in the thick of battle - images that instantly spring to mind in connection with the ICRC.

Yet the ICRC has delegations in Tunis, Kyiv, Tashkent, Washington and Buenos Aires, cities not threatened by war. And why should the ICRC remain in a former conflict zone once a peace agreement has been signed? And what business has the ICRC training police forces, running programmes for schoolchildren and universities, and fighting for the repression of war crimes and a worldwide ban on blinding weapons?

So many questions about the ICRC's presence and work in pre- and post-conflict situations. This is an attempt to answer them, based on an analysis of the problems facing humanitarian action today.



 The International Committee of the Red Cross is known above all for its operations to assist and protect people in the very heart of armed conflict. Whatever difficulties it may encounter in that activity, its physical presence in the field is – and will remain – an essential aspect of its work.  


 Many people are unaware, however, of the fact that the ICRC's field operations are part of a broader, more ambitious mandate: to promote implementation of international humanitarian law. In other words, the organization seeks not only to directly help the wounded, the prisoners and civilians affected by the fighting, but also to ensure that the combatants and indeed all those with power over non-combatants respect their universally recognized obligations toward those persons.  


 In order to be effective when conflict breaks out, this aspect of the ICRC's mission must be prepared well in advance. Its delegates are therefore active in peacetime, advising governments on how best to meet their obligations under international law, persuading the military authorities to make the rules of humanitarian law part of armed forces training, involving musicians in a campaign to promote humanitarian principles among young people, convincing the media to raise public awareness of the effects of particularly cruel weapons, and striving to prompt all those engaged in humanitarian endeavour to embrace a series of guidelines aimed above all at safeguarding the dignity and the autonomy of those they seek to aid. These are examples of a whole range of preventive activities intended to complement and support the ICRC's field operations in connection with actual armed conflict.  


 That there is a need to step up this work and make it more effective is evidenced by the growing number of serious security incidents, the ever more frequently encountered ignorance of or contempt for humanitarian principles and the increasing difficulty of taking effective action where State structures have collapsed. Yet the fact cannot be overlooked that the virtually limitless scope for such action contrasts sharply with constraints posed by the limited resources available. The ICRC therefore finds itself obliged to strictly define what it can and cannot do. It is guided in this by three main principles.  


 Firstly, preventive action should be undertaken only following detailed analysis of the situation and the setting of firm priorities. That action must then be subject to constant assessment – whatever the difficulties entailed – on the basis of clear criteria.  


 Secondly, while it must at times be the ICRC that takes the initiative in this area and actually launches the programmes needed, the aim is always to obtain commitment from the authorities and the local people to carry on that work over the long term. Part of the ICRC's contribution to the development of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is intended to ensure this capacity.  


 Finally, the ICRC's objectives oblige it to be fully consistent, with a view to the long term, in its approach to activities such as spreading knowledge of humanitarian law among military personnel and advising governments on the implementation of that law.  


 It is therefore essential that the validity and the worth of these activities be recognized by the international community. The goal of this brochure is precisely to foster such support by presenting a varied but representative sample of the ICRC's extensive preventive work.  



 1. International humanitarian law: the basis of ICRC action  

The core mission of the ICRC is to preserve basic standards of humanity in time of armed conflict and unrest. In the conduct of hostilities, certain rules must be observed to limit violence and ensure the protection of people taking no part in the fighting: prisoners, the wounded and sick, civilians, the shipwrecked, medical personnel treating them and so on. These rules are at the heart of humanitarian law, a branch of law close, but not identical to, human rights law. It is also referred to as " the law of armed conflict " or " the law of war " .

These universal rules began to be the subject of multilateral treaties in the last century which set the framework for the protection of people in time of war. If they are observed, they also make the restoration of lasting peace and reconciliation that much easier once the fighting is over.

The ICRC has been the driving force behind the development of humanitarian law and has been given the task by the community of States of overseeing its implementation. Promoting compliance with humani tarian law is part of its daily work. Picture a conflict about to break out. The adversaries are preparing for war. The ICRC steps in to remind them firmly of their obligations: the need to distinguish between civilians and combatants, not to target civilians and their property, to refrain from practising torture, to not take hostages nor carry out summary executions, etc. Subsequently, it questions certain acts of violence it witnesses in terms of humanitarian law; for example, was the house destroyed by shellfire a legitimate military target or civilian property? When a rule has been broken, the ICRC takes this up with the offending party, spells out the provisions of humanitarian law once again, and urges the party to act accordingly. In the most serious cases, the ICRC brings violations to the attention of the States party to the Geneva Conventions, which bind signatories not only to respect the law but also to ensure that it is respected.

 The ICRC's role: custodian of humanitarian law  

Humanitarian law and the ICRC are closely linked. This law is principally embodied in the 1949 Geneva Conventions - virtually universal instruments to which 188 States are party - and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 , which have been ratified by 150 and 142 States, respectively as of May 1998. The community of States has put the ICRC in charge of watching over the implementation of humanitarian law and assigned it specific tasks, such as visits to prisoners of war and interned civilians.

 What is international humanitarian law?  

* Humanitarian law protects those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious personnel. It also protects those who no longer take part in the fighting, such as combatants who have been wounded or shipwrecked, who are sick, or who have been taken prisoner.

 Protected people must not be attacked. They must be spared from physical abuse and degrading treatment. The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for. Detailed rules, including the provision of adequate food and shelter and legal guarantees, apply to those who have been taken prisoner or detained.

 Certain places and objects, such as hospitals and ambulances, are also protected and must not be attacked. Humanitarian law sets out a number of clearly recognizable emblems and signals which can be used to identify protected people and places. These include the red cross and red crescent.  

* Humanitarian law lays down restrictions on the means of warfare , notably weapons, and the methods of warfare , such as military tactics. Humanitarian law prohibits all means and methods of warfare which:

 - fail to discriminate between those taking part in the fighting and those, such as civilians, who are not taking part in the fighting;

 - cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering;

 - cause severe or long-term damage to the environment.

 Humanitarian law and human rights  


Broadly speaking, international human rights law relates to the basic rights of people everywhere, at all times. Since the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights 50 years ago, scores of specific human rights instruments have been drafted. However, in times of emergency, some human rights can be suspended. By contrast, humanitarian law relates to the rights of particular categories of people in special circumstances: namely the sick, wounded, prisoners and civilians in cases of armed conflict. Given the extreme nature of their situation, this body of law does not permit any derogations.


To be protected effectively, victims of armed conflict should not only enjoy the basic rights to which everyone is entitled, but must also benefit from certain additional rights linked to their situation: medical care, the right to correspond with their families, protection from the effects of hostilities, etc. In these matters, the provisions of humanitarian law, which apply to the particular situation of armed conflict, go beyond the requirements of human rights law, which are of a more general nature.


The specificity of these two branches of international law make them complementary.



 2. Particular challenges facing humanitarian action today  

Listed below are some of the most common problems which may appear in conflict situations and therefore need to be addressed well ahead of time, i.e. before war breaks out or, where a war has already been fought, before any further conflict erupts:

* humanitarian law is virtually unknown in many parts of the world, although States have a legal obligation to disseminate its content in times of peace as in times of war;

* while humanitarian law conventions have been ratified by almost all States, they are perceived by some to reflect predominantly Western values - an intercultural issue which must be addressed;

* there is a need to clarify or further develop humanitarian law in some fields, particularly with regard to the development of weapons which cause suffering out of all proportion to the military advantage gained;

* because of the transfer of arms, in particular light weapons, the capacity to fight and kill is now within easy reach of almost anyone;

* people who are virtually excluded from society – often young people without jobs, education or future prospects – and who are caught up in a spiral of violence find it difficult to respect a degree of dignity in others which they do not accord themselves;

* the culture of impunity allows people to rape, torture and kill others without any great fear of sanction in many places;

* legislative, judicial, educational and other structures which are essential to the smooth functioning of society are sometimes in the process of disintegrating, even in peacetime;

* there is often a lack of political will to respect humanitarian law, in particular in situations where policies of " ethnic cleansing " are practised;

* people who are in a position to influence the course of events in many cases remain indifferent to the excesses of war and skeptical of the value of a law that is so frequently violated.



 3. The ICRC's response in pre- and post-conflict situations  

The ICRC's strategy is to mobilize support for humanitarian law and its underlying ethical values so as to make the law widely known and effective in national legislation and ensure that violations are prosecuted. It seeks to contribute to developing the law further, raise awareness of problems related to weapons and strengthen the operational capacity of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 3.1 "I didn't know": doing away with a classic excuse  

The rules are frequently violated, sometimes out of ignorance, more often with intent. What is needed therefore is a situation in which no one – neither those who give the orders, nor those who carry them out, nor those who let the violence happen – can say: " I didn't know " . Spreading knowledge of humanitarian law is, above all, the responsibility of States, and the ICRC's job is to assist them in this task of dissemination.

 3.1.1 Making humanitarian law part of military and police training  

The priority audiences are the armed forces and police. The ICRC insists on the inclusion of humanitarian law – and also a number of human rights – in instruction programmes for them. Basically, the difference between someone with a gun but no military training and a member of the regular armed forces is the way they behave: the behaviour of the former is unpredictable, the product of upbringing, culture, political and religious convictions and psychological and material factors. The behaviour of the latter is largely conditioned by automatic reflexes, acquired during collective and individual training. In the heat of battle, where orders are given and carried out in rapid-fire succession, there is no leeway for individual free will.

Humanitarian law includes humanitarian rules for the conduct of hostilities. To be effective, they need to become in-built behaviour patterns. The learning incentive: they have a direct bearing on the success of military operations and the survival of both the individual combatant and his unit. If the law is to have any long-term effect, the upper echelons of the military and the police must first of all be convinced that humanitarian law is a necessity. In addition, contacts built up with the military in the course of cooperation programmes help to establish trust and prepare the ground for ICRC action on behalf of victims, should conflict erupt.

As most of today's armed conflicts are of a non-international character, i.e. limited to the territory of one state, the key actors frequently include members of the police and security forces. Complications arise as the absolute distinction between tasks typically assigned to the armed forces and those typically assigned to the police and security forces is blurred, with one readily taking on app arent responsibilities of the other. The best way of protecting (potential) victims of armed violence is to ensure that both the armed forces and police and security forces respect the fundamental principles of humanity in conducting their operations.

 Programmes on humanitarian law for the military in the Russian Federation  

 1996: cooperation between the ICRC and the Russian armed forces takes the form of structured programmes which are reviewed and adjusted to needs on a yearly basis.

 1997: the ICRC's Moscow delegation carries out eight presentations (one to four hours); eight seminars (one to three days); and two one-week courses for participants from the Russian Federation and other countries in the region, reaching more than 1,100 officers in all. The willingness of the military leadership to play an active role in promoting the law of armed conflict is reflected in a directive issued by Deputy General Chief of Staff Manilov in October: it requires   the armed forces hierarchy to set up training programmes on the law, assess needs in their specific field and state their own need for support, including support provided by the ICRC.

 1998: the   1998 cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Defence covers more than 30 activities, targeting in particular: military educational institutions such as the Military University of Moscow, where legal officers are trained; and military districts, namely Moscow, Siberia and, as in the past, the northern Caucasus. In addition, seminars will be conducted for operational units stationed in the northern Caucasus and Tajikistan, where tension is high.

 New teaching tools play an increasing role in making the rules accessible to those concerned: in 1997 the Moscow regional delegation financed the publication of a Russian/English manual on humanitarian law for officers. A training video on the rules of behaviour at checkpoints was co-produced by the Moscow delegation and a military TV studio, with the participation of " Taman " , one of the most prestigious Guards Divisions. In 1998, the ICRC produced a set of eight posters with quotations from Russian military leaders about the necessity of preserving a degree of humanity in war, to be distributed to army units and training academies.

 Teaching the principles of humanitarian law and human rights to the military police in Brazil  

In Brazil the ICRC has recently launched a project with the aim of introducing and integrating essential principles of human rights and humanitarian law into training and the day-to-day running of the military police in 27 states.

The project defines four distinct steps to be taken consecutively:

1. the conception and elaboration of a programme for instruction in human rights/humanitarian law for the military police;

2. the elaboration of didactic support material;

3. the training of a core group of 285 instructors;

4. the evaluation of the integration process.

For this purpose, the new ICRC teaching file for police and security instructors To serve and to protect , has been translated into Portuguese.

The project preparation, implementation and evaluati on is a joint responsibility of the ICRC and the Brazilian Ministry of Justice.

 3.1.2 Mobilizing society's "movers and shakers" for humanitarian law  

One of the main tasks of the ICRC's regional delegations during peacetime is to make itself known, explain the legal bases for its action and create a network of contacts. It keeps an ear to the ground to identify potential sources of tension and seeks to pave the way for rapid reaction in a crisis. This means identifying the formal and informal power centres and knowing who needs to be mobilized to put across the humanitarian message – a religious leader, an artist, a businessman, manager or journalist. It means establishing links with the key figures in a society, in particular political and economic decision-makers and the media, letting them know the rules of humanitarian law to be observed should violence erupt, and enlisting their support in advance. This is done with the help of local partners, both ICRC staff and members of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 Harnessing the charisma of humanitarian "ambassadors" can be an effective way of promoting a cause. The ICRC has tried this approach in Africa by calling on famous musicians to help make young people – especially child soldiers – aware of the need to respect the civilian population.

 Music goes to war ....  

..... on behalf of victims of conflict across Africa. In a campaign entitled So Why? , six of Africa's most popular singers have put their voices at the service of humanitarian values. In the tradition of the griots, minstrel singers reciting both poetry and historical fact, Youssou N'Dour from Senegal, Papa Wemba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jabu Khanyile of Bayete, Lucky Dube from South Africa, Lagbaja from Nigeria and Lourdes Van Dunem from Angola are appealing for more humanity in time of war. Their message is addressed to everyone, but it is most likely to strike a chord with young people - in particular, those who frequently terrorize the civilian population with their kalashnikovs while devotedly listening to the songs of their favourite musicians.

Launched in October 1997 with support from the ICRC, the campaign is now under way in 34 African countries, including eight war zones. The ICRC provided the musicians with the opportunity to witness for themselves the plight of the people in some of the continent's war-torn regions - Kwazulu/Natal, Liberia, Southern Sudan and Angola - and to translate their impressions into the language of music.

The campaign comprises a CD, a documentary film and a book. To date, the album has been played by some 110 local radio stations and the title song So Why? has climbed to the top of the charts across Africa. The accompanying film Music Goes to War, first shown on Canal France International, has been distributed free of charge to most African TV channels and is being broadcast widely. The book Woza Africa , with a preface by Nelson Mandela, is on sale in bookshops throughout Africa's capital cities.

The six musicians, the composer of the So Why? song and all major participants involved in the campaign have waived their fees and transferred their rights to the ICRC. Royalties and commercial rights will be used to finance specific Red Cross/Red Crescent projects across Africa.

 3.1.3 Educating young people in humanitarian law  

Anyone with first-hand experience of a war zone will tell you that the impulse to fight or the need to fend off danger and find food, medical care and shelter comes before every other consideration. In extreme situations where fear and madness go hand in hand, any talk of rules and standards risks falling on deaf ears. This means that the ICRC has to get through to young people in time of peace.

 Humanitarian law provides a useful tool to encourage young people to reflect on the dilemmas which violence poses. It should not be taught in peacetime solely as a set of standards to be observed in the hypothetical event of war. Attention should be drawn, particularly among young people, to the underlying ethical principles for which acceptance should be cultivated at all times, such as respect for the physical and mental integrity of every individual, care for the weak and wounded, and non-discrimination. If these ethical principles are not understood and respected in peacetime, how can it be otherwise in the heat of the passions stirred up by war? Educating young people in humanitarian law will help to prepare them to assume their adult responsibilities, and resist the call for unchecked violence if ever confronted with war.

 For those who will go on to play a leading role in their society, the transition from school to university is a valuable time for reflection. In many countries, laws, decisions and opinions are still largely made by people who have been to university. The ICRC aims to equip such peop le with a working knowledge of humanitarian law, in order to give them a greater understanding of the principles of humanitarian action and thereby enable them to take responsible decisions in relation to it. To achieve this, the ICRC has developed a four-pronged approach:

* systematic networking among university circles, with the aim of introducing humanitarian law as a matter of course into the syllabuses of the faculties of law, international relations and journalism;

* organizing or participating in training courses for university lecturers, political, military and medical decision-makers and media professionals, to ensure that the promotion of humanitarian law becomes a self-perpetuating process in each country;

* producing and distributing the necessary teaching materials in the local languages;

* stimulating interest in humanitarian law worldwide, by organizing or taking part in conferences and other fora for the exchange of ideas, including its own International Review of the Red Cross.

  Reaching out to young people  

The ICRC believes in the importance of conveying the humanitarian message to young people, whether they are at the origin or the receiving end of violence. Many ICRC delegations have developed context-specific youth programmes in cooperation with Ministries of Education. These are some of the major ones, in terms of scope and resources:

Eastern Europe and Central Asia :

 Countries covered: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

 Programme: begun in 1994 and ca rried out in secondary schools, in cooperation with the respective Ministries of Education and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The programme is scheduled to run into the 21st century. To date, a specially developed school manual (total number of copies produced and distributed: 2.5 million) is being used by fifth-grade pupils (aged 11 to 12) and teachers in five countries and is in the test phase in two others. Aim/method: to familiarize young people with the principles underlying international humanitarian law and humanitarian action, by stimulating discussions based on standard texts studied in literature classes.


 Somalia : project launched in 1996. Aim/method : to show young bearers of arms (militiamen) the relevance of humanitarian rules for their everyday reality, using satirical comics written by local artists, a play performed by Somali Red Crescent volunteers, songs and posters.

 Egypt : project launched in 1994 in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. Aim/method: to obtain the inclusion of brief references to humanitarian law in newly edited secondary school manuals for courses on religious education (to demonstrate the compatibility of humanitarian law with Islamic teachings), social studies, Arabic language and biology (prohibition of chemical and biological weapons).


 Croatia : project launched in 1996 carried out by the youth section of the Croatian Red Cross with ICRC support. Aim/method: to fight post-war disillusionment among young people by focusing their creative energy on humanitarian activities for their communities. Humanity, respect for others and practical ways to help are discussed in groups and applied during Red Cross youth activities. The teachers in charge of initiating the groups are trained by the Red Cross and publish their best initiatives in a bulletin made available to other participants.

Project in preparation for young people living in peaceful contexts:  

 "Hitler the Killer" is the title of a video in which Abraham, a demobilized Liberian child soldier who used the nickname " Hitler " as a warrior, tells of his experiences. Aim/method: the video is intended to raise questions and challenge preconceived ideas about the inevitability of violence in war and peace. Accompanied by a pedagogical brochure, it will be proposed jointly by the ICRC and UNICEF (which is producing an analogous video on a child labourer) in 1998 for use by teachers and educators as part of a structured debate.



 Training future decision-makers at university  

 The ICRC's work in Eastern Europe and Central Asia since 1992 serves to illustrate this approach. The activities of the Moscow regional delegation include:

* close contact with over 120 university faculties. As a result, there are courses in humanitarian law at leading law faculties such as St Petersburg and Bak u, and a compulsory second-year course on humanitarian law and media coverage of armed conflicts for journalism students at Moscow State University;

* training courses for junior lecturers from CIS countries. The first course was held in Moscow in 1997. Subsequent courses are planned in 1998 in Moscow and, for the countries of Central Asia, in Tashkent, with contributions from both local and Western scholars;

* Russian-language translation and publications programme. Among documents recently translated are the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, texts on humanitarian law written by local scholars and a broad range of reference materials;

* humanitarian moot court ( " De Martens " ) competition. Teams of law and international relations lecturers and students from across the CIS take part in presentations and role plays before a moot court in an imaginary situation of armed conflict and an international war crimes tribunal. The first such event was organized in Moscow in 1997. Another is planned in Kyiv in May 1998.

 3.1.4 Taking account of local values and codes of conduct  

Most societies have traditional codes of conduct which serve to protect women, children and the elderly in time of war, prohibit certain types of warfare or establish mechanisms for the settlement of differences. Where such codes of conduct are widely accepted, they can be related to the universal rules of humanitarian law and help to strengthen its impact. The ICRC is exploring this approach.

 An intercultural approach: the Maya project (1996 - 1998)     

 The context: Guatemala, a country which was torn apart by civil war for more than 30 years. The causes are spelled out clearly in the peace agreement signed by the government and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca in 1995: the country's indigenous people have been subjected to exploitation, injustice and discrimination because of their origin, culture and language. Despite the peace agreement, a degree of violence persists.

The ICRC's aim is to help prevent violations of humanitarian law, based on the idea that education about humanitarian law creates a favourable climate for its application. By highlighting the parallels between Mayan law and culture and humanitarian law, the ICRC seeks to make the law widely known to and accepted by its indigenous peoples. In so doing, it hopes to build bridges between the cultures and stimulate dialogue between them.

 The audiences: organizations and leaders of the Maya populations and the Hispanic communities; human rights and indigenous rights advocates; indigenous and Hispanic civil society; schoolchildren and teenagers.

 Phase 1: research. During the initial research phase, the ICRC published a comparative study of humanitarian law and Mayan culture, carried out together with local specialists.   It also produced a wall calendar illustrating shared values with humanitarian law, organized discussion for Mayan communities and Hispanic university audiences and made contact with theatre and music circles with a view to producing plays and music contests.

 Phase 2 (1998): production and dissemination campaign.  

 Radio: eight educational stations are preparing programmes on the ICRC, humanitarian law and the Maya study. The first three-day seminar on these topics was given for 40 radio journalists in July 1997 and two more seminars are planned. Planned for press, film, theatre, art and music: articles on the ICRC and humanitarian law for publication in two Maya weeklies; a documentary on Rabinal Achi , the Mayan war dance in which the rules of warfare of the various Mayan people are performed;   a play on topics relating to humanitarian law for Maya audiences; productions on topics pertaining to humanitarian law by painters and musicians. NGOs and human rights organizations: one seminar on humanitarian law was organized in 1997, six more are planned for 1998.    Training for Maya rights campaigners:    30 workshops and regional fora on humanitarian law are planned for 1998.

 3.2 Implementation of humanitarian law: getting States to do their homework  

Implementation covers all the measures that must be taken at the national level to ensure that the rules of humanitarian law are respected. These measures may need to be taken by government ministries, the legislature, the courts, the armed forces or other state organs. They are set out in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and in the 1954 Hague Convention on Cultural Property.

By way of example, the ICRC init iates the translation of humanitarian law treaties, the adoption of measures to prevent the misuse of the red cross and red crescent emblems (which are intended to ensure proper respect for the wounded and those who care for them) and the training of persons qualified in humanitarian law, such as legal advisers to the armed forces.

 One country's moves to implement international humanitarian law:  

 El Salvador  

 Key dates  

 1953:  El Salvador becomes party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

 1978:  El Salvador ratifies the Additional Protocols of 1977.

 1996:  With support and technical assistance from the ICRC's Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiates the process of creating a coordinating body for the adoption of legal measures required to give effect to the above treaties in national law.

 1997 : The government sets up an interministerial committee for the implementation of humanitarian law (CIIHL). The members of this committee comprise: all government ministers, the public prosecutor,   the human rights ombudsman and the Salvadorean Red Cross Society.

 Role of the CIIHL :

The CIIHL advises the government on all questions relating to humanitarian law and its application, and prepares laws and other measures necessary for its implementation and promotion. The ICRC's Advisory Service is consulted regarding the preparation of laws and regulations to incorporate humanitarian law into national legislation. It provides technical assistance in the form of presentations, legal expertise, and background documents on specific topics.

 Current projects:  

* revision of the Act of 1994 in respect of the protection of the red cross and red crescent emblems, defining who is entitled to use them and in what circumstances, and penalizing any wrongful use;

* examination of the civil and military penal codes in the light of the provisions of international humanitarian law, and preparation for the revision of these codes with a view to penalizing war crimes and other breaches of humanitarian law;

* creating a nationwide programme for the promotion of humanitarian law, targeting both civilian and military audiences;

* the inclusion of humanitarian law in regular education and professional training programmes for university students and students at the National Academy for the armed forces and police force.

 Other tasks: examining measures to protect the environment and cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict; and, since 1997, production of an annual progress report to keep the government and other interested parties informed.

 3.3 War crimes must be repressed  

Where people know the rules but flout them, pressure can be brought to bear by letting them know that there will be a price to pay in the end. Hence the need to ensure that penal code s include provisions relating to war crimes. Hence also the urgent requirement for the establishment of mechanisms to repress such crimes at the international level.

 No crime without punishment  

More and more States are making war crimes punishable under their national legislation, and national jurisprudence is coming into being.

To be effective, national penal legislation must ensure the following:

* for every war crime, the nature and duration of the punishment must be specified;

* individuals who have committed or ordered a criminal act must be held personally accountable;

* justification on the grounds of political, military and national interest or necessity, or of acting on orders from superiors, cannot be accepted;

* suspects may be tried by courts of a nationality other than their own, and in a country other than where the crime was committed;

* cooperation in judicial matters and extradition procedures must be facilitated.

The   ICRC's Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law helps legislators incorporate humanitarian law into national legislation. It functions on a decentralized basis, with a unit including both a common law and a civil law expert in Geneva and five lawyers based at ICRC delegations across the world. The Advisory Service has organized over 30 national and regional seminars on issues related to the implementation of humanitarian law. As a result, the ICRC is now in touch with more than 60 governments which have sought its advice in this regard. To promote the effective repression of war crimes, in 1997 the Advisory Service organized a meeting on nati onal penal legislation for civil law experts from more than 20 countries from various regions, and is now preparing guidelines to assist them in making war crimes liable to prosecution under domestic law.

The international community has set up two ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Preparations are well advanced for a permanent international criminal court .

Such a body could play a crucial role in cases where national jurisdiction has failed to convict suspected war criminals or where procedures have proved ineffective. A widely recognized tribunal, independent of any political pressure and designed to complement national legal systems, would send a clear message to perpetrators and their victims: war crimes will no longer be allowed to go unpunished.

 3.4 Development of humanitarian law: keeping pace with the reality of today's conflicts  

This can be done in several ways:

1. States and other important actors must be convinced that the principles of humanitarian law are relevant standards in today's conflicts, if they are to respect them. This means that sometimes new treaty rules need to be developed so that the principles continue to apply in changing circumstances (e.g. the new laser weapon Protocol and the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines apply the principle that weapons must not cause unnecessary suffering; the new international criminal court applies the principle that war criminals should be punished).

2. The ICRC closely follows developments in fields related to humanitarian law, in particular human rights, to ensure that standards of humanitarian law are adequately referred to, are not reduced o r do not have loopholes introduced into them (e.g. the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Guidelines on rules applicable to internally displaced persons, etc.). It actively participates in the work of major international conferences and shares its views with them. It pursues the same objectives in all the organizations where it enjoys observer status, such as the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Organization of American States.

3. In its quest for legal bases to protect human beings in time of conflict, the ICRC looks beyond the treaties, for example to customary law. 

 Humanitarian diplomacy at work: children must be barred from combat  

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted and ratified by nearly all States, has drawn public attention to the issue of child soldiers, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations and a number of NGOs are joining their efforts to address their plight. In addition to its medical and relief work for vulnerable groups in time of war, the ICRC is determined to contribute to improving the lot of these children by means of humanitarian diplomacy.

The minimum age at which children may be recruited for combat is currently set at 15 by both Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions. A large section of the international community, however, feels that the age limit should be raised. For the past four years, a working group of the UN Human Rights Commission has been engaged in preparing a draft optional protocol to be added to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The ICRC, which is putting its expertise at the service of the working group, strongly advocates a minimum age limit of 18 for both recruitment and participation, in line with the Movement's international plan of action for children affected by conflict.

 A particularly alarming trend: child soldiers under 15. The recruitment and use of children under 15 in hostilities is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and calls for severe punishment. The ICRC is determined to see this abhorrent practice made a war crime under the statute of the future permanent international criminal tribunal, and is using its diplomatic weight with the international community to that effect.

 Major conferences in which the ICRC took part and which included references to humanitarian law in the final declarations  

* Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

* World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 1993

* Habitat II, Istanbul, 1996

* Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995

In Beijing, States were encouraged to become party to international instruments containing provisions relative to the protection of women and children in armed conflicts, including the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. They were also asked to respect fully the norms of humanitarian law and take all measures required for the protection of women and children, particularly against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.

 The universality of a custom is the pledge of its worth  

 It is of great importance to determine which rules of humanitarian law are customary law as this would reinforce their universal applicability and confirm that they are solidly anchored in all cultures.

At the request of the international community, the ICRC is carrying out a study to determine which norms of humanitarian law are customary international law. This is an extensive project involving 50 national and six international research teams, headed by a Steering Committee of 15 renowned academics.

In the months ahead the Steering Committee will make a first assessment of the State practice collected by the research teams to evaluate whether certain norms have become customary international law. Subsequently, the Steering Committee will present it to a group of governmental experts. On the basis of this research and consultation the ICRC will draft a final report to be submitted to the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (November 1999).

 3.5 Banning/limiting the use of certain weapons and publicizing their dangers  

Many types of weapons are not simply designed to put the adversary out of action, but to cause suffering out of all proportion to the military advantage gained and continue to kill and maim long after the conflict is over. The ICRC is at the forefront of the struggle to limit the devastating effects of such weapons. The recent campaign for the prohibition of anti-personnel mines was crowned by the adoption of the Ottawa Treaty. Meanwhile, in various countries, the ICRC has been running systematic information campaigns to alert people to the danger of mines which persists, despite the return of peace.

In addition, the ICRC has also taken on the task of drawing the States'attention to the effects of the transfer of light weapons.

 ICRC Landmine-Awareness Programmes  

In the period following the Ottawa Treaty of December 1997 the ICRC has worked hard to maintain the momentum and bolster States'commitment to the landmine issue. It will be many years before the world is free of this scourge, however, as contamination still runs into the millions. The ICRC has therefore taken steps to address the immediate problem through mine-awareness and risk education programmes.

The ICRC has been running full-scale community-based programmes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina since early 1996 and in Azerbaijan since 1997. Over the next two years it will explore the possibility of launching similar programmes in Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq, Sudan, Uganda and other mine-affected countries.

The results of the formal evaluation of existing programmes show that aside from the lengthy process of mine clearance, mine awareness is one of the most effective tools in preventing landmine accidents.

The Bosnia programme comprises a mine-awareness delegate, 11 field officers and 123 National Society volunteers. They make use of both direct community training and the mass media, such as television, radio and posters, to pass the message. The programme has been directly linked to a sharp decrease in the total number of recorded accidents, which fell from 564 in 1996 to 259 in 1997. In Croatia, too, where one delegate, five field officers and 80 National Society volunteers are engaged in landmine awareness 60,000 people have been apprised of the dangers posed by these devices.

Unlike Bosnia and Croatia, the conflict in Azerbaijan is still unresolved, so in essence the ICRC employs purely preventive measures. This involves gathering and sharing information on the landmine situation before vulnerable groups of displaced people r eturn to contaminated areas. The programme in Azerbaijan, though still in its early stages, involves one mine-awareness delegate and one field officer and is well received by the local population. The various training and mass media activities have stimulated debate and pushed the mine issue in general to the fore.

The ICRC sees risk education programmes as one area where it can make a tangible difference in both preventing and alleviating the suffering caused by mines.

 Conventional weapons and humanitarian law  

The progress of technology is proving a double-edged sword indeed: modern conventional weapons are wreaking havoc in armed conflict, killing and maiming civilians and combatants alike. The ICRC has made it a priority to protect civilians from inherently indiscriminate weapons and from the indiscriminate use of other weapons, as well as to ensure that weapons which cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering are outlawed altogether. These are the results to date:

 The 1997 Ottawa Treaty  for a total ban on anti-personnel mines , signed by 125 States and ratified by 11 of them, as of May 1998. This is the first time that a weapon already in widespread use has been outlawed by international humanitarian law. It was also a first for the ICRC: in order to obtain the ban, it launched an international advocacy campaign in 1995. This campaign, accompanied by a series of diplomatic and political initiatives, helped to raise worldwide awareness of the mines problem and culminated in the adoption in 1997 of a new Convention banning the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines.

 The ban on blinding laser weapons . These terrifying weapons, which were on the verge of being produced or deployed by a small number of nations, were prohibited under a new Protocol annexed to a 1980 United Nations Convention prohibiting or restricting the use of a number of conventional weapons. The Protocol, ratified by 20 States, will enter into force as binding international law on 30 July 1998.

 The transfer of conventional weapons remains a source of deep concern.   The ICRC's efforts to teach respect for the norms of humanitarian law are increasingly being undermined by the unregulated flow of weapons, particularly small arms. The ready availability of weapons and ammunition can heighten tensions, increase civilian casualties and prolong the duration of conflicts. The ICRC is urging States to adopt internationally binding rules for the transfer of arms and ammunition: along with their undisputed right under international law to retain armaments required for their security, States have an equally solemn moral and legal responsibility, under Article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to " respect and ensure respect " for humanitarian law.

 3.6 Strengthening National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement takes its strength from the universal network of National Societies. One of the main tasks of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is to develop these National Societies throughout the world. In its international action, the ICRC relies on the partnership of the National Red Cross and Red Crescen t Societies. In any given country, the National Society provides the necessary'insider'knowledge and helps establish contacts both with the authorities and the local communities.

In return, ICRC delegations provide financial and technical   support enabling the National Societies to prepare for emergency situations and develop their own operational capacity in the service of the victims. It advises them in drafting their statutes and shares its expertise in humanitarian law so that the National Societies are able to promote it themselves. The ICRC helps them to set up services for family reunification and the exchange of Red Cross messages in time of war.

 A joint venture with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society: a circus with a message  

 Circus Ethiopia is a non-profit organization registered in Ethiopia since 1993. What is unusual about it is that all the performers (currently some 200) are street children or children from very poor families, aged between six and 20. It has five project sites (Addis Ababa, Jimma, Mekele, Nazareth and Jari), each featuring a circus school and a performing troupe. Through interactive entertainment, the Circus shows problems facing many youngsters in post-civil war Ethiopia: poverty, parental violence, life on the street and AIDS. The aim is to promote communication between parents and children, as well as among the country's various ethnic groups. In view of Ethiopia's staggering linguistic and cultural diversity, combined with a sizeable illiteracy rate, the Circus is an ideal medium of communication. It has won the support of organizations such as UNICEF and the ICRC, who see it as an innovative and effective way of spreading their message.

 How the ICRC came into it: the ICRC delegation in Addis Ababa established cooperation with the Circus in 1995 to highlight specific activities carried out by the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) for people separated or otherwise affected by war, such as the Red Cross family message service, education about the danger of landmines and an anti-tuberculosis campaign; and to spread general knowledge about the Red Cross.

 The ICRC, the Circus and the ERCS: a three-way partnership. As part of its long-standing cooperation with the ERCS, the ICRC provides support for the Circus, such as transport. For example, in July 1997 the ICRC supported a joint ERCS-Circus dissemination programme in Harar (eastern Ethiopia), organized by the local ERCS, which attracted 18,000 spectators. At the same time, the ICRC continues to work with the various Circus groups in organizing joint events in its specific fields of activity. In 1997 for example, a half-day session on humanitarian law, organized for some 500 officers and soldiers in the barracks of the 1st Corps of the Ethiopian Defence Forces, was combined with a special Circus show in the afternoon.

 The Circus and the ERCS signed a cooperation agreement in 1997, actively supported by the ICRC. While the Circus is committed to promoting the principles of the Red Cross and its work across Ethiopia, the ERCS branches provide a crucial nationwide network facilitating mutual understanding and the exchange of ideas among the various regions and across cultural and linguistic boundaries.

 How National Societies contribute to promoting humanitarian law:  

 the example of Cuba  

In a cooperation agreement signed with the Cuban Red Cross in 1993, the ICRC undertook to provide support for a Study Centre for International Humanitarian Law, run by the Cuban Red Cross and the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (RAF). The aim of the Centre is to introduce main target groups to humanitarian law: the RAF, police and security forces, Red Cross leaders and volunteers, as well as diplomats, university lecturers and journalists. As the new millennium approaches, the ICRC is anxious to preserve the continuity of its preventive action so as to forestall any future breaches of humanitarian law and promote friendly links among Caribbean countries and their neighbours. The centre has a vital, and growing, role to play in this respect.

The Centre organizes 12 one-week courses on humanitarian law in Havana every year, given by 12 senior RAF officers trained at the San Remo International Institute of Humanitarian Law and in Geneva. Between February 1995 and December 1997 courses on humanitarian law were attended by 914 participants. In addition, a well-equipped documentation centre offers an extensive stock of literature on humanitarian law, inter-active training tools and other up-to-date teaching methods.

Between 1995 and 1997, the Centre's budget has more than quadrupled in response to the rising demand for its services. The ICRC finances logistics and equipment and contributes its expertise in humanitarian law, while the Cuban authorities pay the salaries of administrative and teaching staff.



 4. What is the place of ICRC peacetime activities in the prevention strategies of the international community?  

Through its activities for the promotion of humanitarian law and cooperation programmes with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC seeks not only to ensure that humanitarian law is observed if conflict breaks out, but also to strengthen society in time of peace so that it is better able to resist the call to violence:

* within the sharply demarcated area of humanitarian law, it helps to reassert the rule of law by developing new treaty rules, when needed, to keep pace with the reality of today's conflicts; by reinforcing law-related institutions to make them more efficient and accountable; and by increasing government compliance with the law;

* it helps to strengthen civil society through its efforts to mobilize non-state actors – non-governmental organizations, the media, groups of citizens, etc. – to ensure observation of humanitarian law and through its support for the development of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These emerging networks, often highly dynamic, have a great influence in society;

* it acts on structures , targeting collective systems and services. The educational programmes it helps organize in schools, such as in the Russian Federation (see Reaching out to young people, p. 13) and its contribution to the setting up of national mechanisms to implement humanitarian law (see text on El Salvador, p. 15) serve as examples;

* it contributes to the training in terms of humanitarian law of tomorrow's military, academic, political and other leaders, some of whom will inevitably have influence over the course of conflicts. The world needs leaders inspired by an ethic, people of vision with the political courage to defend it. Education in humanitarian law provides a basis for reflection and encourages a questioning attitude among those who will be called upon to assume responsibilities in the society of the future.

 Directorate of International Law and Policy,  

 Geneva, May 1998