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The rule of law at the national and international levels: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2013

10-10-2013 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 68th session, Sixth Committee, items 85 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 10 October 2013.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is grateful to be given the opportunity to address the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on the item of the rule of law at the national and international levels.

As this forum is aware, the ICRC – through its many worldwide activities on issues including accountability, judicial guarantees, missing persons, and training in international humanitarian law for weapon bearers – assists States in implementing international humanitarian law (IHL) and developing the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks to strengthen the rule of law at the national level.

Whilst much of the ICRC’s work is carried out in conflict and post-conflict situations, as per the mandate conferred upon it by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, the ICRC also undertakes a broad range of activities outside conflict to improve respect for international legal norms and principles.     

As has been recognized in the many interventions before this Committee and previously during the 2012 High-level Meeting of the 67th Session of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, respect for the rule of law not only helps minimize suffering caused by hostilities but also gives authorities the necessary platform to rebuild communities shattered by violence.

For its part, the ICRC endeavours to speak to all parties to a conflict to remind them of their IHL obligations and thereby ensure that hostilities are conducted by the parties in full compliance with core IHL norms and principles. The ICRC also maintains a robust and confidential dialogue with the relevant authorities to ensure that all individuals held in detention are treated humanely, and that all detention regimes observe basic procedural safeguards and fundamental guarantees.   
Greater respect for the rule of law can be generated if the appropriate legal frameworks are already in place before conflict erupts. The ICRC thus works closely with governments the world over, with ministries as well as the 103 national IHL committees so far established by States, to provide them with the legal and technical advice they need to fully implement their international obligations. Much of this work is carried out in cooperation with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

At the request of States, the ICRC assists authorities in the domestic implementation of not only the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, but also two dozen other treaties pertaining to the protection of persons and objects in armed conflict. These include the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol of 2000, the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa and a number of international instruments dealing with conventional weapons and the protection of cultural property.

The adoption of domestic legislation should go hand in hand with extensive awareness-raising and training programmes. The ICRC, at the invitation of States, organizes and partakes in such programmes, with target audiences including not only traditional weapon bearers, such as members of the armed forces, but also various law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, parliamentarians and civil society. The aim ultimately is not only to strengthen the rule of law by establishing strong and coherent legal frameworks, but also to ensure, if and when hostilities occur, that those participating in hostilities understand that their actions must be guided by fundamental legal rules and principles, and that they have the knowledge and training to do so.

As the ICRC has witnessed over its 150-year history, war crimes have been committed in virtually all conflicts. In these cases, while preventive actions may have failed, it is nonetheless incumbent on States to end impunity by holding perpetrators of war crimes and other serious violations of international law accountable. This should be achieved through fair and transparent criminal proceedings, fully respectful of internationally recognized judicial guarantees.

States must also shed light on the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and address the needs of their families. The adoption and earnest application of relevant laws and regulations that fully cater for the families’ right to know the fate of their relatives and their right to reparation will help with the physical and psychological healing of families and communities. In the long term, for the affected communities, this can translate into improved economic development.       

As noted by the United Nations Secretary-General, it is ultimately the responsibility of States to ensure the rule of law at the national and international levels. By providing technical and legal advice and practical support, as needed, the ICRC stands ready to help States in their efforts to enhance the rule of law.