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What is the ICRC's role in ensuring respect for humanitarian law?


Extract from ICRC publication "International humanitarian law: answers to your questions"

As the promoter and guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC must encourage respect for the law. It does so by spreading knowledge of the humanitarian rules and by reminding parties to conflicts of their obligations.

 Dissemination and Advisory Service

Since ignorance of the law is an obstacle to its implementation, the ICRC reminds States that they have undertaken to make the humanitarian provisions known. It also takes its own action to this end. The ICRC further reminds States that they must take all the necessary steps to ensure that the law is applied effectively and therefore respected. It does so chiefly through its Advisory Service on international humanitarian law, which provides technical guidance to States and helps their authorities adopt national implementing laws and regulations.

 Reminding parties in conflict of their obligations

On the strength of the conclusions it draws from its protection and assistance work, the ICRC makes confidential representations to the relevant authorities in the event of violations of humanitarian law. If the violations are serious and repeated and it can be established with certainty that they have occurred, the ICRC reserves the right to take a public stance; it does so only if it deems such publicity to be in the interest of the people affected or threatened. This therefore remains an exceptional measure.

The ICRC as guardian of international humanitarian law  

Humanitarian law enables the ICRC to ensure that humanitarian rules are respected.
Representatives or delegates of the Protecting Powers shall have permission to go to all places where prisoners of war may be, particularly to places of internment, imprisonment and labour (...). And again: The delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross shall enjoy the same prerogatives. (Art. 126, Third Convention).

NB: Article 143 of the Fourth Convention contains similar provisions relating to civilian internees.

The Movements Statutes specify that one of the ICRCs roles is: to undertake the tasks incumbent upon it under the Geneva Conventions, to work for the faithful application of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts and to take cognizance of any complaints based on alleged breaches of that law. (Art. 5, para. 2c).