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Armed conflicts linked to the disintegration of State structures


Preparatory document drafted by the International Committee of the Red Cross for the first periodical meeting on international humanitarian law, Geneva, 19 - 23 January 1998

(Original: French)



I. The disintegration of State structures

II. " Anarchic " conflicts

1. Characteristics

2. The effects in humanitarian terms

III. Applicability and application of international humanitarian law

1. Applicability of Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva


(a) Definition of a " party to the conflict "

(b) Existence of an armed conflict

2. Applicability of Protocol II

3. Application of the fundamental principles of common Article 3

4. The United Nations Charter

IV. Proposals

1. Humanitarian action

(a) Identification of local structures or groups

(b) The role of local customs

(c) Dissemination of humanitarian law and principles

(d) Reducing the risks of humanitarian assistance

(e) Training humanitarian personnel

2. The role and responsibilities of the international community

(a) The obligation to " ensure respect " for international humanitarian law

(b) Taking account of new players in ar med conflicts

(c) The need for an international jurisdiction

(d) Military intervention

(e) Prevention of armed conflicts

At its 51st session [1 ] , the United Nations General Assembly considered the problems of maintaining international security and preventing the violent disintegration of States. There are various reasons for this disintegration: often against the backdrop of underdevelopment, the State, together with its usually weak institutions, is thwarted by cultural, religious or ethnic factors, by the divided nature of society, by the failure of its citizens to demonstrate their allegiance or by its own lack of legitimacy. Furthermore, the internal situation is often directly or indirectly conditioned by international interdependence.

Without attempting to analyse the underlying causes of " anarchic conflicts " , the present document illustrates some general problems relating to the application of international humanitarian law and to the deployment of humanitarian action in these situations. The aim is to define the characteristics of " anarchic conflicts " and to identify the humanitarian needs to which they give rise, the constraints they impose on international humanitarian law and humanitarian action, the responses that may be expected from such action and the new approaches being contemplated to deal with such situations, based on ICRC experience.

 I. The disintegration of State structures  

Under international law, a State is an entity that has a defined territory and a permanent population, under the control of its own government, and that engages in , or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other such entities.[2 ]  

The disintegration of State structures seems to occur when the third constitutive element of statehood, a government in effective control, fades away. This can happen at various levels of intensity and concern different parts of the national territory.

A situation of this type has roots that go much deeper than a mere rebellion or coup d'état. It involves the implosion of national institutions, authority, law and order, in short the body politic as a whole. It also implies the breakdown of a set of values on which the State's legitimacy is based, often resulting in a withdrawal of the population into a form of nationalism which is based on religious or ethnic affiliation and which becomes a residual and viable form of identity. In most cases, when State structures collapse, the maintenance of law and order as well as other forms of authority fall into the hands of various factions. The State itself does not physically disappear, but gradually loses the capacity to carry out the normal functions of government.

The disintegration of the State occurs at various levels of intensity and may affect different parts of the country. At the low end of the spectrum, the government may remain in office but have only little control over the population and the territory. At a higher level of disintegration, certain crucial structures may formally remain in operation, so that the State can still be legitimately represented before the international community but is nevertheless composed of several warring factions. The government is in effect no longer characterized by uncontested power and a monopoly on the use of force. The regular armed forces, which are often one of the only institutions remaining in these weakened States, also gradually fall apart. A particularly alarming development is the prolifer ation of veritable private armies and " security " detachments, which are often nothing but branches of conglomerates with economic interests and which are free of any real State control.[3 ]

The next level in the process is marked by the total implosion of government structures, so that the State is no longer legitimately represented before the international community. Chaos and crime - already widespread during the preceding phases and often foreshadowing total disintegration - become generalized and the factions no longer exercise effective control over their members and have no clearly established chain of command. There are no valid representatives with whom humanitarian organizations can talk and insecurity becomes a real problem.

The armed conflicts which arose or evolved in such a context have brought and continue to bring humanitarian organizations face to face whith new challenges and growing difficulties. These conflicts have been defined in turn as " destructured " or " anarchic " . No matter what term is chosen, it is evocative of the extend to which these conflicts are marked - at different levels and to varying degrees - by the desintegration of the fundamental structures of the States in which the conflicts take place. We have chosen to use the term " anarchic " conflicts in this document.

 II. "Anarchic" conflicts  

 1. Characteristics  

On the basis of an analysis of several conflicts involving the disintegration of State structures in which the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations have found it most difficult to perform their work and to keep their bearings, the essential characteristics of these internal conflicts may be described as follows:

* the disintegration of the organs of the central government, which is no longer able to exercise its rights or perform its duties in relation to the territory and the population;  

* the presence of many armed factions;  

* divided control of the national territory;  

* the breakdown of the chain of command within the various factions and their militias.  

These characteristics are generally closely interconnected. They are fundamental and cumulative, for in the absence of any one of them, the conflict in question would not be " anarchic " within the meaning we ascribe to it. On the other hand, they may be found, and hence a conflict may be described as " anarchic " , only at a certain stage in the hostilities.

Moreover, other characteristics, although present in " anarchic " conflicts, are not peculiar to this type of conflict, but may also be found in other internal conflicts. These are therefore not among the essential characteristics of " anarchic " conflicts.

Some of these non-essential characteristics are the following:

* the evasion of responsibility by the parties to the conflict with regard to the regulation of the use of violence, often involving repeated and grave breaches of international humanitarian law ;

* the largely autarkic economic regime of each faction and consequent prevalence of banditry and crime;  

* the possibility for criminal groups to use the prevailing chaos for their own ends.  

 2. The effects in humanitarian terms  

Internal conflicts, which were financed from abroad during the years of the Cold War, now tend to be waged within an autarkic kind of war economy based on robbery and illicit traffic. This has led to a splintering of guerrilla movements, which the providers of external aid had, often artificially, regarded as united. When a movement or faction relies exclusively on robbery and contraband for its subsistence, it is drawn into a spiral of crime in which every small group, or even every individual, acts for himself.

The ICRC has found from its direct experience in the field that these effects tend to be greater in " anarchic conflicts " . Indeed, in conflicts that take place amid the disintegration of State structures, the civilian population is often directly at stake, since the aim of each faction is to acquire living space.

The main humanitarian effects of this type of conflict are:

1.   Humanitarian organizations are obliged to establish and to maintain at all times contacts with each of the various factions and with a plethora of their representatives.   This is necessary in order for them to understand the social, political and economic context in which they are called upon to work; to thwart attempts at manipulating humanitarian assistance on the part of various factions wishing to cultivate or acquire supporters through the distribution of humanitarian aid; and to ensure the safety of local and expatriate humanitarian staff. The extreme individualization of the factions has made contacts and negotiations very uncertain. Every soldier - adult or child - virtually becomes a spokesperson, or in any case someone with whom to negotiate.

2. The more fragmented the territory is by fighting between the factions involved in a conflict, the less civilians will be likely to identify with the dominant local faction, and therefore remain in their places of origin. This leads to mass population movements, both within the national borders (internally displaced people) and beyond them (refugees). These movements, whether forced or spontaneous, have disastrous effects on the nutritional balance of the displaced people. In situations of this kind, UN agencies, the ICRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and non-governmental organizations are often the only ones to come to the aid of these people.

3. Because of the prevailing chaos, discipline among the troops is rare and in extreme cases every combatant is his own commander. Accordingly, the concept of a " war ethic " becomes a delusion, while rape, kidnapping, hostage-taking, looting and other penal-law crimes become practically commonplace. Total lack of discipline combined with the stress of combat and fear always leads to wanton violence. In these contexts,   efforts to spread knowledge of the rules of military conduct, of principles such as   respect for   the red cross/red crescent emblem and for humanitarian organizations, are meeting with increasing obstacles, which call for innovative approaches. The message to be conveyed can no longer, as in more traditional conflicts, be addressed to members of the hierarchy in the hope that it will be passed on to their subordinates. More and more often it is becoming necessary to reach as large and heterogeneous an audience as possible, and to convince each individual of the merits of the message. In " anarchic " conflicts, it is both the content and the form that have to be reconsidered. Although this lack of comprehension can sometimes be mitigated between the parties to a classical type of conflict by drawing parallels between humanitarian law and some aspects of the traditional culture, this is not always the case when the social fabric has been torn apart.

4. The loose structure characteristic of factions and their militia makes it more and more difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between combatants and civilians. This has always been a problem in internal conflicts, particularly because guerrillas made their social basis - the " masses " - an important factor of their struggle. This phenomenon is accentuated in " anarchic " conflicts, for during most of the time the militiamen mingle with civilians, often without wearing a uniform or any other distinguishing sign. An additional problem is thus created for humanitarian organizations, which are finding it more and more difficult to ensure that only civilians benefit from humanitarian assistance.

5. The anarchy that results from the disintegration of the State undermines the values that lie at the very heart of humanitarian action and international humanitarian law. The breakdown of the set of values symbolic of the State fosters a strong identity-related component which makes principles such as impartiality unacce ptable to the parties to a conflict and even to individuals. The obvious consequence is increased risk for all those present. In this framework, it is even more difficult for humanitarian organizations to respect a nonetheless vitally important work ethic in all circumstances. The latter includes refusing to make any compromises when it comes to their operational methods of action, for this can only have a negative impact on all aid agencies in the future.

6. In this context of disintegration, new, more immediate and tangible interests have appeared: they reflect local and/or regional economic concerns and often the personal interests of faction leaders or of groups with links to organized crime networks. The primacy of this race for personal and direct profit over the collective interest also exposes humanitarian workers to growing risks, since the factions will not hesitate to appropriate the goods those workers administer with a view to assisting the victims of armed conflicts. The humanitarian organizations are no longer considered as independent purveyors of relief but as an economically " interesting " component.

   Thus, the increasingly largescale operations of humanitarian organizations, whose number and logistic and material means are steadily growing, inevitably end up attracting the attention and desire of one or the other, or even several of the factions involved. When this happens, the security of humanitarian staff and relief supplies become major issues which only serve to complicate the work of the organizations concerned. [4 ]

7. At the same time, in " anarchic " conflicts, humanitarian organizations are often compelled to take the place of State structures or services that no longer exist. This is particularly striking in the case of medical activities. The ICRC, together with National Red Cross or Red Cres cent Societies and other humanitarian organizations, has sometimes been obliged to take charge of whole hospitals or even of the entire medical structure of a country. Such an undertaking entails long-term financial and operational commitments, since no one will be in a position to take over these services as long as the chaotic situation persists.

Once the State has imploded, a paradox is created: humanitarian action becomes both more necessary and more difficult, if not impossible. This is because the hierarchical structure of the parties to the conflict is insufficient to enable them to respect international humanitarian law, and also because that structure is inadequate for providing humanitarian organizations with the minimum security conditions they need in order to operate.[7 ] This is the vicious circle that makes humanitarian action in these conflict situations so difficult and that raises the stakes for the humanitarian law underlying that action.

 III. Applicability and application of international humanitarian law  

States that are in the process of disintegration are nevertheless still recognized as States and are therefore subject to international law, even in the absence of a government able to ensure the continuity of the State's functions. By the same token, the treaties to which the failed State is a party remain in force.

Human rights instruments play only a minor role in such situations since their implementation depends largely on the existence of effective State structures. A more prominent role is played by international humanitarian law instruments applicable in armed conflicts, mainly the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977. This is because international humanitarian law is binding not only upon States but also upon non-State entities, such as insu rgent groups, the armed factions taking part in the hostilities, and the individuals belonging to them.

The emergence of " anarchic " conflicts, however, raises questions of both the applicability and the application of international humanitarian law.

 1. Applicability of Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions  

Common Article 3 obliges the parties to a non-international armed conflict to respect certain minimum humanitarian rules with regard to persons who are not, or are no longer, taking an active part in the hostilities. Its opening paragraph reads as follows:

 In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: ...  

Accordingly, the main questions with regard to the applicability of common Article 3 in " anarchic " conflicts are (a) whether the factions participating in such a conflict constitute " parties to the conflict " and (b) whether the intensity and form of the hostilities between these factions are characteristic of an armed conflict.

 (a) Definition of a "party to the conflict"  

Common Article 3 does not define the term " party to the conflict " . In the case of an international armed conflict, the parties thereto in principle can only be States, but the situati on in non-international armed conflicts is less clear, as in such cases at least one party to the conflict is not a State. The general consensus of expert opinion is that armed groups opposing a government must have a minimum degree of organization and discipline - enough to enable them to respect international humanitarian law - in order to be recognized as a party to the conflict. [6 ]

The fact that a government is obliged to use its armed forces to combat an insurrection is taken to mean that the rebels qualify as a party to the conflict and that common Article 3 applies. However, these considerations relate mainly to conflicts between a government and insurgents; they do not take into account situations, typical of " anarchic conflicts " , where there is fighting between various factions in a country. The question therefore arises as to whether, in situations where there is a proliferation of warring factions characterized by their lack of organization, these factions qualify as " parties to the conflict " and hence common Article 3 can be considered to apply?

Given the humanitarian purpose of common Article 3, its scope of application must be as wide as possible and should not be limited by unduly formal requirements. It is revealing in this respect that various recent UN Security Council resolutions have called upon " all parties to the conflict " to respect international humanitarian law, and this also in the context of such " anarchic conflicts " as those in Somalia and Liberia. [7 ]

 (b) Existence of an armed conflict  

With regard to the term " armed conflict " , expert opinion has also and almost exclusively taken into account conflicts between a government and a rebel party, but not conflicts between different factions in a country. The experts moreover agree that interna l tensions and disturbances, such as riots and isolated and sporadic acts of violence, do not constitute an armed conflict within the meaning of common Article 3.

In the cases cited above, however, the Security Council implicitly stated that hostilities linked to the disintegration of the State constituted an armed conflict. The International Court of Justice has declared for its part that the rules of common Article 3, in so far as they constitute " elementary considerations of humanity " , apply not only in cases of armed conflict, but in all situations by virtue of customary law. [8 ] There can thus be no doubt that the rules of Article 3 apply in an " anarchic " conflict. Moreover, when these rules are applicable, all individuals belonging to a faction have the duty to respect them.

 2. Applicability of Protocol II  

For Protocol II to be applicable requires, first of all, that a faction must be fighting against the government, thereby excluding situations of confrontation between non-governmental factions. Another condition laid down in Protocol II is that a party to a conflict must exercise such control over the national territory as to enable it to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement the Protocol. Experience shows that this condition is hardly ever fulfilled by an armed faction party to an " anarchic " conflict. Although it is conceivable that factions could exercise the necessary control over the territory, they would be most unlikely to be truly capable of conducting concerted military operations and above all to have a strong enough chain of command to enable them to implement Protocol II.

 3. Application of the fundamental principles of common Article 3  

As referred to above, the International Court of Justice has declared that the rules laid down in common Article 3 correspond to " elementary considerations of humanity " which are binding on all individuals.[9 ] Moreover, a number of Security Council resolutions, including those on " anarchic conflicts " , call upon all parties to respect international humanitarian law and reaffirm that those responsible for breaches thereof should be held individually accountable . [10 ]  It is therefore clear that these exceptional situations are not beyond the scope of the law. Quite the contrary, they are subject to a series of customary norms which are collectively binding on the various parties to the conflict and individually binding on each individual taking part in the hostilities. A proposal has moreover been put forward to recognize the norms applicable in all circumstances, with a view to protecting the victims of such generalized violence.[11 ]

The problem posed by this type of conflict is therefore not so much that of which norms are applicable as it is that of their implementation. This can be said of all national and international legislation applicable on the territory of the State which is disintegrating. Since by definition the disintegration of the State carries with it the risk of non-compliance with the entire corpus of the law, it is in the interest of the international community to make sure, by means of cooperation and in accordance with the UN Charter, that such " no-law " zones do not come into existence.

Once the State has started to crumble and the armed conflict has broken out, it is the States'duty to fulfil their obligation to " respect and ensure respect for " international humanitarian law in all circumstances, by not acting in a way that could lead to a further deterioration in the situation and potential breaches of humanitar ian law.

 4. The United Nations Charter  

As the Security Council's resolutions tend to show, " anarchic " conflicts may give rise to humanitarian crises which can be considered to pose a threat to international peace and security. In such cases, political-military intervention within the framework defined in the UN Charter must remain a possibility so that activities to provide humanitarian assistance and protection for the groups of people in peril can be resumed. Indeed, political problems cannot be solved by humanitarian actions alone, and the members of the international community are not only bound to fulfil their obligations under humanitarian law but also to shoulder the responsibilities conferred on them in the UN Charter.

" Anarchic " conflicts are therefore within the scope of the law, and the States must assume the responsibilities devolving on them under international law as a whole in order to ensure that international humanitarian law is applied in such situations.

 IV. Proposals  

We have seen how the weakening or the disintegration of the State impairs acceptance and even understanding of the rules and principles underpinning international humanitarian law and all humanitarian action.

The only way to avoid reaching this stage is to prevent State structures from collapsing. Yet there are many causes of disintegration, and the task of remedying them largely exceeds the competence of humanitarian agencies.

Humanitarian organizations, and the ICRC in particular, can help to ensure the survival, even in the most extreme situations, of respect for the principles governing humanitarian action and for the fundamental norms of international humanitarian law. The setback that humanitarian action has suffered with the emergence of " anarchic " conflicts should enable us to learn certain lessons and to invent new solutions to which the international community could give its backing. 

 1. Humanitarian action  

 (a) Identification of local structures or groups  

For a better knowledge and understanding of the situations in which humanitarian agencies are called upon to act, local structures or groups which have survived the implosion of the State should be identified and supported as appropriate. In practically all conflict situations there are structures, traditional or not, that have continued to exist after the collapse of the State and that have taken over various of its functions. In Somalia, for example, the traditional clan system survived in spite of everything, and groups of women that had formed spontaneously and were greatly encouraged and supported made it easier for humanitarian organizations to provide food aid. 

It is nevertheless important to realize that such alternative structures do not exist in every situation and that even where they do, they cannot really replace those of the State.

A major aspect of prevention would therefore consist in strengthening local structures in peacetime, in particular the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in countries that are threatened with disintegration.

 (b)     The role of local customs  

Even more than the structures themselves, it is necessary to identify all the local reflexes, customs and " codes of honour " that are bound to exist and to survive, even in the societies most seriously affected by the breakdown of the State and by widespread conflict. These traditional rules are often bound up with religious beliefs and are generally safeguarded by the old people - the sages of the tribe or clan. It is the rules that are unwritten and uncodified but are nevertheless deeply rooted in the society, even one that has become highly disintegrated, which continue to be recognized and even respected, and which can facilitate humanitarian work.

 (c) Dissemination of humanitarian law and principles  

Spreading knowledge of the rules and fundamental principles of international humanitarian law presents a special challenge in " anarchic " conflicts because of the plethora of participants in the violence, who form small loosely-structured groups, and because of the difficulty of reaching them owing either to security problems or to the dim view they take of the presence of foreigners on their soil. Moreover, when there is a means of reaching these small groups, conveying to them a message centred on the principles of humanitarian law and persuading them to comply with the law, calls for an understanding of their environment and their motives and for a very great willingness to listen.

To meet the challenge of dissemination in " anarchic " conflicts, several factors are required:

-Close cooperation with nationals of the country in conflict, who are best placed to make the connection between the universal principles embodied in international humanitarian law and the local customs and values with which the law should be equated or from which it may be seen to derive. They should be given all the necessary training to accomplish this task.

-Innovative ideas about how to make young combatants or militiamen in " anarchic " conflicts more aware of the law (using, for example, theatre, storytelling or music). Methods such as radio and television, which do not require direct contact with armed groups, but nevertheless reach them indirectly, should also be used judiciously. It may be helpful to get to know the names of any popular heroes these young people may have and to make these personalities aware of the influence they could have on the behaviour of all those who, for instance, listen to their music or to their opinions.

 One cannot insist enough on the importance of prevention, in particular of teaching schoolchildren the basic principles of international humanitarian law so as to ensure that they acquire an awareness of such values as humanity, respect and solidarity at a very young age. The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have an important role to play in this area.  

 (d) Reducing the risks of humanitarian assistance  

Today, humanitarian organizations are de facto - by reason of the volume of assistance they inject into " anarchic " conflicts - first-rank players on the economic and social, and hence also on the political, scenes. Any humanitarian initiative has its inevitable corollary of a major outpouring of goods, which can alter the local economic and social fabric and can even fan the fighting among factions.

To counter these risks, recourse could be had to micro-projects - self-managed community kitchens, seed distributions, livestock vaccination campaigns or help to resume income-generating activities. Projects such as these lie midway between emergency operations and development programmes, and their existence is in itself indicative of the distance that the ICRC and other humanitarian agencies have covered. Micro-projects also make it possible to carry out very localized work, which not only provides support for the autarkic economy of countries in conflict where State structures have imploded, but also helps to combat the rise in banditry. When broad action is indispensable, humanitarian organizations must show even greater openness and lucidity in analysing the side-effects of their work. Thought must be given to how best to target emergency humanitarian assistance, to foresee the consequences and to scrupulously respect, in all circumstances, a pre-established work ethic.

 (e) Training humanitarian personnel  

A multitude of contacts is needed to bring any humanitarian operation in the context of an " anarchic conflict " to a successful conclusion. This takes time, availability and patience. At the same time, most of the expatriate staff of humanitarian organizations is composed of young people, with little or no experience of cultures and traditions different from their own, of conflict situations and of working under pressure. They find themselves obliged to assume heavy responsibilities in the field, in a position of isolation, without always having the necessary or even indispensable supporting staff. Maturity and empathy are key factors in overcoming these difficulties, and should be looked out for during the recruiting process.[12 ]

The specific features of " anarchic " conflicts require that greater human resources be made available for the same kind of work than in other types of conflicts. By observing their surroundings, these aid providers can take the necessary steps to alert the international community of a humanitarian crisis at an early stage and preventive measures can be adopted so as to avoid a military intervention, which is always traumatic and often has unforeseeable consequences.

Emergency humanitarian work, in particular in the context of " anarchic " conflicts, requires faultless professionalism, itself based on thorough prior knowledge of the region, the local groups and cultures, the risks and ethics inherent to situations of this type. By the same token, humanitarian assistance for the people caught up in the conflict calls for close cooperation with local staff, on the basis of the same professional and ethical criteria.

 2. The role and responsibilities of the international community  

Beyond the immediate answers which can be found, taking into consideration all the constraints encountered in this type of conflict, there is nevertheless a limit to what humanitarian organizations can do. This was evident in Somalia and Liberia, where the conditions became such that the presence of these organizations and the deployment of emergency action became either no longer sufficient or downright impossible.

 (a) The obligation to "ensure respect" for international humanitarian law  

What is to be done when humanitarian organizations are manifestly impotent in excessively disintegrated and chaotic situations? The collapse of civil society and the ungov ernable outbreak of violence is a matter that concerns the entire international community. Indeed, Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions stipulates that the States must " ensure respect " for international humanitarian law. The means available to States for influencing the behaviour of the parties to a conflict in a situation where government structures have disintegrated are, to be sure, more difficult to apply in the context of an " anarchic " conflict. There are nevertheless always a number of measures they can adopt, such as an arms embargo, the freezing of foreign assets, or a threat to reduce military and financial aid. 

 (b) Taking account of new players in armed conflicts  

Consideration must be given to the means of involving the new players in modern conflicts in the application and dissemination of international humanitarian law. In today's conflicts, in addition to the traditional participants in situations of armed violence, other types of protagonists have a direct or indirect role to play. They may be private militias in the service of commercial companies or paramilitary groups on orders from a government. They may be transnational companies or supranational economic players who could hold considerable sway over the parties to a conflict. They may be religious or political groups able to unite the masses around a message. All must be made aware of what international humanitarian law involves, either as participants in a conflict called on to apply the law, or as vectors who by their activities promote the message of respect for humanitarian principles.

 (c) The need for an international jurisdiction  

It should be constantly borne in mind that the message concerning respect for the principles and rules of international humanitarian law will have very little impact if it is not accompanied by the prospect of punishment in the event of violations.

This is true both for combatants, who know full well that the weakness or collapse of the chain of command is a guarantee of impunity, and for the society as a whole, since the breakdown of the State and the implosion of its functions, in particular the judiciary, clearly render the State incapable of fulfilling its obligation of bringing to trial the perpetrators of grave breaches of the law. The result is the abandoning of responsibility at all levels, which is both a cause and an effect of the disintegration of State structures. In the case of " anarchic " conflicts, where the legal system has become ineffective or has disappeared entirely, the establishment of an international criminal tribunal is of primary importance for ensuring the future application of and respect for international humanitarian law.

 (d) Military intervention  

In the most serious cases, the Security Council may ask States to intervene militarily in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Before engaging in such operations, however, it is essential to set precise objectives and to draw up a clear plan of action so as to avoid creating any confusion between the humanitarian and military spheres.[13 ] While such operations cannot be considered humanitarian in and of themselves, they may make it possible to restore conditions in which international humanitarian law can be applied and humanitarian activities can be pursued.

 (e) Prevention of armed conflicts  

The most adequate and cost-effective international action would of course consist in preventing the very outbreak of armed conflict, through monitoring and effective response to early warnin g signals. As we have already stated, the causes of the disintegration of State structures in many countries are detectable, and are often detected, long before the implosion becomes openly evident. It is often the follow-up to this early warning that is absent. The lack of interest shown on several occasions by the international community has subsequently led to costly and sometimes fruitless initiatives which could largely have been avoided.


1. Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on " The maintenance of international security - prevention of the violent disintegration of States " (A/RES/51/55 of 10 December 1996).

2. See Montevideo Declaration on the rights and duties of States, 26 December 1933, 165, L.N.T.S. 19, 49 Stat. 3097, T.S. No. 881.

3. For these problems, see " Report on the question of the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination " , submitted by the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Mr Enrique Bernales Ballesteros (E/CN.4/1997/24).

4. On this point, see " Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations " .

5. See the document entitled " Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations " .

6. See in particular J. Pictet (ed.), Commentary (Fourth Geneva Convention), ICRC, Geneva, 1958, pp. 35 ff.; and Y. Sandoz, C. Swinarski, B. Zimmerman (eds.), Commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions , Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht/ICRC, Geneva, 1987, pp. 1348 ff.

7. See, e.g., S.C. R es 814, 26 March 1993, para. 13 " (...) reiterates its demand that all Somali parties, including movements and factions, immediatedly cease and desist from all breaches of imternational humanitarian law (...) " ; S.C. Res. 788, 19 November 1992, para. 5 " (...) calls upon all parties to the conflict [in Liberia ] (...) to respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law " .

8. International Court of Justice, Reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning military and paramilitary activities in and againsts Nicaragua, 27 June 1986, p. 114, para. 218. Similarly, Jean Pictet, op. cit. , pp. 30 ff.

9. See footnote 8 above.    

10. S.C. Res. 814, supra note 5, para. 13 " (...) and reaffirms that those responsible for such acts [i.e., breaches of international humanitarian law ] be held individually accountable " ; S.C. Res. 788, supra note 5, para. 5 " (...) calls upon (...) all others concerned [i.e., every other person as such ] to respect strictly the provisions of international humanitarian law " .

11. See Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/29, entitled, " Minimum humanitarian standards " .

12. See the document entitled " Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations " .

13. On the question of armed escorts for humanitarian convoys, see " Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations " .

 Ref. LG 1997-148-ENG