Project on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law



The promotion and development of IHL are core ICRC activities that the institution has been engaged in since its inception and are based today on its mandates under the Geneva Conventions and the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. IHL promotion, which is part of the ICRC's ongoing work both in the field and at headquarters, takes a variety of forms such as IHL dissemination and training, monitoring of IHL application by states and non-state actors, IHL teaching, the provision of legal advice and others. 

IHL development has also been historically inseparable from the ICRC, starting with the adoption of the 1864 Geneva Convention to the ICRC's involvement in the drafting of the Geneva Conventions and their two Additional Protocols. The ICRC is currently engaged in the drafting of protocols and amendments to a range of weapons treaties and is at the forefront of an initiative aimed at refocusing international attention on the issue of weapons and biotechnology.

While the ICRC is the lead organization in the area of IHL promotion and development, the events of September 11th 2001 and the international response to them have given rise to the need for a more active institutional role in the IHL debates currently taking place. A renewed interest in IHL by governments and others has, among other things, been generated by certain queries about the applicability of IHL to the global " fight against terrorism " . The international armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have also served to redirect international attention to the rules governing inter-state conflict. Similarly, internal armed conflicts continue to pose considerable challenges in terms of the legal protection of persons affected by them. Last but not least, improving compliance with IHL by both state and non-state actors remains a constant ICRC preoccupation. 

The ICRC's " Project on the Reaffirmation and Development of IHL " was established in October 2002 with the aim of providing a framework within which both internal reflection and external consultations on some current and emerging issues of IHL could take place. In 2003, work within the Project was focused on the organization of a series of seven expert meetings - and other forms of consultations - briefly described below:

In June 2003 the ICRC, together with the Hague-based TMC Asser Institute, organized an expert meeting aimed at exploring the notion of " Direct Participation in Hostilities under IHL " . The need for clarifying the status and treatment of civilians who have taken a direct part in hostilities pertains to all types of armed conflicts and has been pointedly raised in the legal debates on the " fight against terrorism " . Seminar participants, composed of distinguished IHL experts from all parts of the world, agreed that an effort to clarify the notion of " direct participation " was necessary and encouraged the ICRC to continue the process by organizing a follow up meeting in 2004, which the institution intends to do. Despite important successes achieved by the international community in preventive action and repression of IHL violations, there is no doubt that better compliance with IHL during armed conflicts - i.e. operationalizing states'obligation to " respect and ensure respect " for IHL under common article 1 of the Geneva Conventions - remains an important challenge. In order to address this subject and generate proposals for improvement, the ICRC, in cooperation with other institutions and organizations, hosted five regional expert seminars on the topic of " Improving Compliance with IHL " . The meetings, which were attended by government officials, National Society representatives, academics and NGOs, were held in Cairo, Pretoria, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City and Bruges between April and September 2003. The wealth of ideas and proposals submitted has been taken as an indication by the ICRC of the need to pursue this work in 2004 as well. 

" IHL and Other Legal Regimes: Interplay in Situations of Violence " was the topic of the 27th Annual Roundtable on Current Problems of International Humanitarian Law organized by the ICRC and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy, in September 2003. The debates among the more than 200 participants from all regions of the world confirmed that the comprehensive protection of persons in armed conflict necessitates the complementary application of IHL and human rights law and of refugee law, where applicable. Participants expressed a desire for continuing the discussion on this issue at a regional level.

An overview of this and other work envisaged for 2004 - and beyond - within the ICRC's Project on the Reaffirmation and Development of IHL is provided for in an ICRC Report on " IHL and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts " forwarded to the December 2003 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The Report outlines another key segment of work within the Project - and that is the Study on customary rules of international humanitarian law. Promotion of the Study's findings (which, with the supporting practice, total over 4,000 pages), will be a major focus of the ICRC's activity in 2004 and in the years ahead. Several launches, as well as expert seminars aimed at examining the Study's implications, particularly in terms of the rules applicable in non-international armed conflicts, are planned for next year.