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UN-ICRC: guidelines for UN Forces

15-05-1996 News Release 96/19

On 10 May in New York ICRC President Cornelio Sommaruga handed over to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali a document entitled Guidelines for UN forces regarding respect for international humanitarian law. The document specifies the principles and rules of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols applicable to UN forces deployed in areas affected by armed conflicts. Until now the situation was ill-defined since it is the States, not the UN, that are party to the humanitarian law treaties. Thanks to the new guidelines, it should be possible in future to ensure that UN military operations do not have adverse consequences for war victims or certain categories of prisoners. 

The guidelines, which are the result of a series of meetings of legal experts organized by the ICRC, were drafted in close cooperation with the UN services concerned and must be observed by all UN contingents, whatever the mandate involved. Their main purpose, as that of international humanitarian law as a whole, is to preserve human dignity.

The rules applicable to UN forces are essentially those prohibiting attacks on civilian property, those prohibiting or restricting certain means or methods of warfare and those stipulating that only the urgency of a wounded person's medical condition should determine the order in which he is treated.

The guidelines also stress that in all circumstances the ICRC must be notified without delay of all persons captured or detained by UN forces so that those persons can be visited by ICRC delegates and their families informed of their whereabouts.