• Send page
  • Print page

Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts

13-11-1998 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 53rd session, Sixth Committee, item 146 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 13 November 1998

Mr Chairman,

This year and next will bring two important anniversaries marking progress in the rules designed to protect human dignity, as first the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then the four Geneva Conventions celebrate half a century of existence. The provisions laid down in the latter were reaffirmed and developed some 20 years ago in the Protocols additional to those Conventions.

The Additional Protocols, which set out rules to protect the civilian population from the effects of war, remain perfectly relevant today, since civilians continue to be the main victims in present-day conflicts. It is therefore alas still vital for the States to treat international humanitarian law as an urgent priority.

Mr Chairman,

It is encouraging to see that the number of States bound by the Additional Protocols continues to rise. Since the General Assembly's last debate on this subject, six new instruments of ratification have been deposited. Today, therefore, 152 States are bound by Protocol I while 144 States are party to Protocol II, which is applicable to non-international armed conflicts.

At present, a number of other States are studying the possibility of ratifying or acceding to the Protocols. Some have already embarked on the necessary procedures. There is thus good reason to be pleased about the situation, which repeated calls from the General Assembly have undoubtedly helped bring about. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) therefore welcomes this opportunity to thank the representatives of the States assembled here for regularly devoting their attention to this agenda ite m.

The Additional Protocols must acquire the same universality as the Geneva Conventions – of this the ICRC is convinced. We therefore repeat our call to those States not yet party to these treaties to become bound by them as quickly as possible.

The ICRC also appeals to those States that have not yet done so to accept the competence of the International Fact-Finding Commission provided for in Article 90 of Protocol I. To date, only 53 States – an altogether insufficient number – have accepted its competence.

Mr Chairman,

Effective protection for the victims of armed conflict can be provided only through rigorous implementation of the rules of international humanitarian law, in time of war but also in peacetime.

In becoming bound by the 1977 Additional Protocols and the other humanitarian instruments, the States have undertaken to respect and ensure respect for the obligations arising from those treaties. This categorical and imperative undertaking must be translated into practice at the national level by ensuring the conditions necessary for humanitarian law to be implemented. In particular, the States must adopt criminal legislation that makes it possible to punish those who commit serious violations. In addition, misuse of the red cross or red crescent emblem must be repressed. This emblem is the visible sign of the protection conferred by the law. Finally, there is an urgent need to promote knowledge of the rules of humanitarian law among all those who carry weapons.

The ICRC salutes the efforts recently made by many States to implement humanitarian law. Over 40 States have so far set up national commissions to study the matter and devise implementation measures. The growing interest being shown by parliaments in these issues is also worthy of mention. There has been muc h communication between the ICRC and national parliaments on promoting adherence to, implementation of and knowledge about humanitarian law. We would also like to point out the high degree of cooperation between the ICRC and a number of parliamentary organizations, in particular the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Centro-American Parliament (PARLACEN).

In this regard, the ICRC's Advisory Service on international humanitarian law and our organization's network of delegations throughout the world are available for support to the States in the form of legal advice and technical documentation. Our Advisory Service also works to facilitate exchange of information between the States themselves regarding national implementation measures.

Mr Chairman,

We would like to mention the first Periodical Meeting of the States party to the Geneva Conventions on general problems concerning the application of international humanitarian law. This meeting, which was convened in January of this year by Switzerland, the Conventions'depositary, was an important opportunity for discussion of these issues.

And only very recently, the Swiss government invited all the States party to the fourth Geneva Convention to an experts'meeting to discuss general problems relating to its application.

On both occasions, the States recognized and reaffirmed the need to comply with the rules of humanitarian law. In order to attain this objective, however, all the instruments of humanitarian law – including newly adopted texts and those that have recently been revised – must gain acceptance as widely as possible.

In this spirit, the ICRC feels that it would be desirable for the present agenda item not to be confined to the Additional Protocols but rather expanded to include humanitarian law in general. This would make it possible to include in this Committee's deliberations the extent to which other very important treaties have been ratified, implemented and promoted. As examples we might mention the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property, and the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including its Protocols on mines and blinding laser weapons.

Similarly, the Secretary-General's report might henceforth include information received from member States and the ICRC on the steps they have taken to render more effective all the rules in force that constitute humanitarian law. This would help to make them truly universal and ensure that they were widely known and implemented at the national level.

The ICRC considers that a general review of this kind would be most useful in strengthening humanitarian law. Following the end of the United Nations Decade of International Law, it would enable States to retain a forum indispensable to the discussion of ways to improve protection for the victims of war.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Ref. LG 1998-088-ENG