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Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights

15-04-2003 Statement

59th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Agenda item 19 - 15 April 2003. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Ms Chairperson,

The purpose of the ICRC Advisory Service is to support States in their efforts to adopt national measures for the implementation of international humanitarian law. Indeed, there are various laws and regulations that national authorities can and should adopt in peacetime to ensure respect for humanitarian law in times of armed conflict.

More specifically, the work of the Advisory Service consists in providing assistance in the form of legal advice – in particular by commenting on draft laws or by drafting such laws itself – in organizing seminars and meetings of experts, in compiling fact sheets and other specialized documents and in collecting and supplying information on laws and regulations that have been adopted and on the case law relating thereto.

As part of its work, the Advisory Service also promotes the ratification of international humanitarian law treaties. The ICRC believes in the continuing relevance and importance of these instruments, in particular the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additonal Protocols, whose 25th anniversary was celebrated last June. In all, 161 States are now party to Protocol I, which applies to international armed conflicts, and 156 States are party to Protocol II, which applies to non-international armed conflicts. The ICRC works unremittingly for the universal acceptance of the Protocols and encourages all States that have not yet ratified them to do so.

The Advisory Service also pro motes the ratification of more recent instruments such as the Second Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Ottawa Treaty on anti-personnel mines, the 2001 amendment to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and other conventions dealing with the use of certain weapons, in particular biological and chemical ones. 

Such instruments also include the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICRC welcomes the recent establishment of this court, whose judges and president have now been elected and whose prosecutor has been appointed. Not only has the ICRC always supported the creation of such a court, but it has also sought, and is still actively seeking, to encourage and assist States in their efforts to adopt national legislation under which persons suspected of having committed war crimes can be prosecuted.

The existence of such legislation enables States to bring the principle of complementarity into full play and assume their responsibilities in this regard prior to the possible submission of cases to the International Criminal Court. More and more States have such provisions at their disposal and many others are on the point of adopting them. The progress made in recent years in these two areas – the prosecution of war crimes at the national level and the creation of an International Criminal Court – gives reason to hope for a decrease in impunity for crimes that constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Generally speaking, the full and effective incorporation of international humanitarian law into national legislation can be furthered by the existence of national interministerial committees entrusted with that specific task. The ICRC Advisory Service therefore encourages the creation of such committees and supports their work. In all, 68 national committees have now been set up throughout the world.

In March 2002 the Advisory Service held a meeting of representatives of national committees on international humanitarian law from all over the world. On the basis of the discussions that took place at the meeting, it is currently drawing up some practical advice for national committees with a view to increasing their effectiveness and furthering the exchange of information on the national implementation of international humanitarian law.

The ICRC Advisory Service facilitates the exchange of such information by making a database on national implementation measures available on the Internet and it will soon launch an electronic forum especially designed for national committees. As part of its cooperation work, the Advisory Service also supports the growing number of regional meetings of national committees.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the technical and legal assistance that the ICRC provides for national authorities, like similar activities carried out by bodies working in the field of human rights, is aimed at creating an environment conducive to respect for the dignity of individuals and to the protection of their basic rights.

Thank you, Ms Chairperson.