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United Nations Decade of International Law

15-11-1995 Statement

 United Nations, General Assembly 50th session (1995), Sixth Commission, Agenda item 140, Wednesday, 15 November 1995  

 Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I should like to thank you for giving me the floor and make a few remarks on the subject of the United Nations Decade of International Law. As you are aware, the ICRC has always lent its support to the Decade's programme, whose main objectives are closely associated with our own efforts to promote, disseminate and bring about respect for international humanitarian law.

At a time when the international community is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and aspiring to peace, how tragic it is that so many regions in the world are the scene of extremely violent armed conflicts which defy the basic rules of humanitarian law and affect civilians and their very means of existence. If the victims of war are to be assisted, emergency operations are clearly essential. Yet material assistance alone is not enough - this widespread suffering will go on unless there is greater compliance with the law that applies to armed conflicts. In this respect, the ICRC has a specific mandate to fulfil, even if the initial responsibility lies with States.

Mr Chairman,

In accordance wit h resolution 49/50, the ICRC has provided the Secretary-General with various information which appears in his report on the Decade (A/50/368). I should like to take this opportunity to emphasize some of the points raised in the report.

During the last session of the General Assembly, the ICRC outlined for the Sixth Committee the work undertaken as a follow-up to the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims, which was held in Geneva in 1993. We also announced that a meeting of an Intergovernmental Group of Experts would be held in January 1995, also in Geneva, in order to discuss practical means which would promote respect for international humanitarian law. The meeting, which was mentioned in paragraph 10 of resolution 49/50, took place as scheduled, and adopted a series of recommendations for disseminating, adopting and applying international humanitarian law in a more effective fashion. The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which will meet from 3 to 7 December this year, is called upon to adopt the same recommendations.

By suggesting practical and realistic measures that could be taken to prevent violations of international humanitarian law, these recommendations, which address the grave concern caused by today's conflicts, could provide effective solutions to the problems prevailing in the humanitarian field today. In particular, the recommendations urge the ICRC, with the support of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation, to strengthen its capacity to provide advisory services to States in their efforts to implement international humanitarian law, and especially to disseminate the law in a suitable fashion at all levels. The ICRC has recently set up an appropriate structure for this purpose, both at headquarters and in its delegations.

The recommendations also invite the ICRC to prepare a report on the customary rules of in ternational humanitarian law applicable in international and non-international armed conflicts, and to circulate the report among States and relevant international organisations.

Such a report should serve to clarify the rules that apply to situations not covered or insufficiently covered by treaty law. Special emphasis should be placed on non-international armed conflicts, for which there are few rules governing the conduct of hostilities.

Information on customary rules would also be of assistance to the ICRC, since the Intergovernmental Group of Experts has asked it to prepare a model manual for the armed forces on the law of international and non-international armed conflicts. Special provision has been made for experts from various geographical regions to assist the ICRC in this undertaking. Preparation of the manual will also provide an appropriate framework to consider the possibility of incorporating the Guidelines for military manuals and Instructions on the protection of the environment in times of armed conflict into national military instruction manuals. These Guidelines were prepared by the ICRC and the above mentioned resolution 49/50 invited States to disseminate these instructions and to incorporate them in their own military manuals. Preparatory work on the manual is due to be undertaken next year, and the ICRC plans to hold a meeting in 1997 to promote the adoption of the manual by States.

Mr Chairman,

Humanitarian law cannot be effectively applied, and violations of its provisions cannot be properly suppressed, unless States respect the commitments they have made. Within this context, one of the recommendations adopted by the experts is particularly important. It is a specific reminder to States of their basic obligation to respect and ensure respect for the provisions of international humanitarian law, and it asks States to act, jointly or individually, in co-ope ration with the United Nations in situations of serious violations of the law, and to take appropriate measures to suppress such violations. Yet another recommendation requests the Depository of the Geneva Conventions to hold periodical meetings with States party to the Conventions in order to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law by examining general problems of application.

Mr Chairman,

The 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will be opening in Geneva within the next few days. Representatives of the 186 States parties to the Geneva Conventions, of the ICRC and of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation will convene to address the major humanitarian issues of our time. In addition to the points I have just raised, other aspects of humanitarian action will also be discussed. But beyond the event itself, and in addition to the exchange of views and observations, the results and follow-up of the work of the International Conference must measure up to the challenge set by today's armed conflicts and to the legitimate expectations of the victims. These results will undoubtedly be mentioned in the future work of the Decade.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(Ref.: UN(1995)27b)