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Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Armed Conflicts

13-10-2004 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 59th session, Sixth committee, item 140 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 13 October 2004

Thank you, Mr Chairman, for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor.

The protection of human life and dignity is a fundamental objective that lies at the very core of international humanitarian law. Wherever this law is not respected, human suffering becomes all the more severe and the consequences of conflict more difficult to overcome.

Members of this assembly are well aware that the goal of improving respect for humanitarian law requires steps to be taken already in peacetime. In this regard, the ICRC encourages States to consider becoming party to all instruments relevant to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, since universal participation will enhance the authority of these treaties. The ICRC also encourages States to adopt any legislative, administrative or other measures that may be required to give effect to international norms at the national level. The ICRC considers such efforts to constitute an institutional priority, in line with its mandate to work for the faithful application of international humanitarian law. We note with satisfaction, as has been reflected in the Secretary General's report on the Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflict , the increasing efforts and commitment of States to better implement international humanitarian law in their domestic legal orders.

We would like in the following to provide some brief observations on the progress made to promote the universality of the relevant humanitarian law treaties and in the adoption of domestic measures of implementation . 

To date, 192 States are party to the Geneva Conventions, whereas 162 States have acceded to the First Additional Protocol and 157 to the Second. We are pleased to note that several other States have also indicated their interest in or undertaken preparatory steps towards becoming party to these key humanitarian law instruments. We seize this opportunity to remind States of the possibility of recognizing the competence of the International Fact-Finding Commission in accordance with Article 90 of Protocol I, and of making use of the good offices of the Commission in situations of international or non-international armed conflicts.

The ICRC also wishes to welcome the progress achieved in the setting up of the International Criminal Court, as attested by the ratification of its Statute by 97 States so far. The aim of the Court is to ensure a more effective punishment of those who commit the most serious crimes, including war crimes. It has been widely recognized that preventing impunity can best be achieved through a comprehensive system of national and international jurisdictions that complement each other. Implementing rules relating to the repression of war crimes at the national level is thus of the utmost importance, since enforcement of individual responsibility is an essential mechanism in ensuring respect for the law.

The ICRC, through its Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law, is committed to helping national authorities to adapt their domestic criminal legislation on the repression of war crimes as provided for under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and thus, through the adoption of all legislative, regulatory and administrative measures required at the national level. However, adopting or adapting penal legislation is not the only concern.

Another consideration of prime importance to the ICRC is the effective protection of cultural property in the e vent of armed conflict. Such property should be protected not only in light of its intrinsic value for humanity and for future generations, but also because attacks against such objects may act as a catalyst for further violence, widespread hostilities and the violation of values that the law seeks to preserve. This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. We also welcome the entry into force of the 1999 Second Protocol to this Convention. To promote ratification and national implementation of these instruments, the ICRC has planned and organized in the course of this year, in association with the UNESCO, a series of regional seminars held on every continent. We seize this opportunity to appeal to States who have not yet done so to positively consider acceding to these important treaties as soon as possible.

Many States have already adopted national laws for the protection of individuals in armed conflicts. National implementation of international humanitarian law is however an ongoing task. Domestic laws and regulations need to be adapted to comply with existing treaties and to keep pace with the development of international law as a whole. In this sense, the work of national committees for the implementation of international humanitarian law has proved very useful. Today, 68 such committees worldwide are engaged in implementing and developing international humanitarian law, and the ICRC cooperates closely with them.

We take this opportunity to welcome the Pledges made by the States at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held at the end of 2003. On this occasion, a large number of States undertook to accede to the instruments of humanitarian law and to take measures to implement the law at the national level. It is our hope that these pledges will be translated into concrete action and we wish to emphasize our willingness to provide any assistance that may be needed in achieving this.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman