Protection of civilian persons in the power of the enemy and the establishment of an international criminal jurisdiction
31-12-2000 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 840, by Julio Jorge Urbina
This paper analyses major recent cases decided by the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and dealing with crimes committed against civilians in the power of the opposing side which constitute serious violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war. The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to try crimes of such a nature is also examined. In the author’s view, the two International Tribunals, and in particular the ICTY, have made a significant contribution to the legal protection of civilians by giving the provisions on breaches of the humanitarian law treaties a more precise meaning. Furthermore, the ICTY’s decision to apply the legal provisions on grave breaches to non-international armed conflicts (Tadic case) has established a firm basis for improved protection of civilians against crimes in civil wars. The new International Criminal Court will have a sound practice to build upon as regards protection by international criminal law of civilians in enemy power.