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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

21-11-1996 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly 51st session, Sixth Committee, Agenda item 142. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 21 November 1996

Mr. Chairman,

Respect for international humanitarian law depends largely on universal acceptance of the instruments of which it is composed. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the protection of war victims have attained global recognition, since 188 States are now party to them.

The number of States bound by the humanitarian treaties has been growing steadily over the years. Since the General Assembly's 49th session - when the present agenda item was last discussed, 11 States have become party to Protocol I of 1977, which applies to international armed conflict. Thirteen States (including two already bound by Protocol I) have become party to Protocol II, which applies to non-international armed conflict. To date, 146 States are thus bound by Protocol I and 138 by Protocol II.

The International Committee of the Red Cross welcomes this increasing participation in the Additional Protocols, which bears witness to the importance accorded to the protection of human beings in situations of armed conflict.

Mr. Chairman,

In order for the two Additional Protocols to become as universal as the Geneva Conventions they supplement, the ICRC calls upon States that have not yet done so to ratify, or accede to, these instruments.

The moment is particularly opportune as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Protocols. The common objective that we must seek to achieve by 8 June 1997 is universal recognition of these treaties. This appeal is, moreover, highly topical in view of the proliferation of conflicts characterized by an extremely alarming level of violence and anarchy.

Among the mechanisms expressly designed to promote the application of international humanitarian law, special mention should be made of the International Fact-Finding Commission instituted under Article 90 of Protocol I. The competence of this Commission can be recognized at the time of ratification of, or accession to, Protocol I, or at any subsequent time. So far only 49 States have made declarations to that effect, seven of which have done so in the past two years. Nevertheless, the Commission cannot become fully effective unless its competence is more widely acknowledged. It should be recalled that ad hoc declarations recognizing that competence may be made at any time.

Respect for international humanitarian law must also be guaranteed through effective implementation of the humanitarian rules in peacetime. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols specify the various measures to be adopted at the national level. These are particularly important when it comes to repressing violations of the law. Priority must be given to assuring that war crimes do not go unpunished, and every possible step must be taken to see that the provisions setting forth sanctions in the event of grave breaches of humanitarian law are incorporated into national legislation. Respect for the red cross or red crescent emblem needs to be strengthened and measures taken to punish any misuse thereof. Systematic efforts must further be made to spread knowledge of international humanitarian law, especially among those bearing weapons, and instruction in the humanitarian rules needs to be adapted to every level of the population.

Mr. Chairman,

The overall objective is to ensure that conflict victims receive the most effective possible protection. The ICRC therefore believes that it would be advisable in the future to extend the scope of the agenda item being discussed today to cover the whole of international humanitarian law, including the following legal instruments which form an integral part of this body of law:

*the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, together with its four Protocols, one of which deals with the scourge of anti-personnel mines; and

*the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

This periodic review focused on the status of participation in all these treaties is a useful and necessary exercise. It is a specific expression of the concern for humanitarian law and its application which needs to be forcefully and regularly reaffirmed both in this Assembly and in other fora.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ref. UN(1996)36,b