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The rule of law at the national and international levels – ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2011

06-10-2011 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 66th session, Sixth Committee, items 83 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 06 October 2011.

The ICRC welcomes the importance that the Sixth Committee has placed once again on promoting the rule of law, with a particular focus this year on transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The ICRC is convinced, as a result of its daily work with populations affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, that a clear framework of rules saves lives and reduces suffering. In the field of Missing Persons, for example, there are fundamental rules enshrined in both international humanitarian law and human rights law. If these rules are properly implemented at the national level, they can prevent disappearances. The ICRC is convinced that respect for international law and for the integrity and dignity of all individuals, including the deceased, erects a barrier against disappearances. The same reasoning applies for all these categories of persons which the ICRC has a mandate from States to protect and assist, such as the wounded, detainees and civilians affected by armed conflict.

The ICRC cannot overstate the importance of incorporating into national law provisions to prevent serious violations of international humanitarian law and other international crimes. These provisions under national law should also make it possible to prosecute those who commit such crimes and should include appropriate sanctions. In order to be effective, they must go hand in hand with the creation of institutions capable of implementing them. Furthermore, the ICRC believes that punishing perpetrators must be accompanied by appropriate reparation for the victims of international violations and crimes. Only in this way can solid, long-lasting foundations be laid on which to rebuild the structure of a society severely damaged by armed conflict or other violence.


The ICRC helps to both develop technical aid and promote national capacity-building in the realm of fostering the rule of law. On the request of national authorities, the ICRC contributes in areas as diverse as prison reform, strengthening the judiciary, university courses, and training for civil servants and security forces. This work is generally carried out in situations in which the ICRC has an established presence. These activities include experts from the country concerned, for we are convinced that the process of preventing international crimes is greatly enhanced through full participation from local people who themselves embrace the process. This participation must exist in all relevant areas, including prosecuting those accused of such crimes. This also constitutes the best guarantee against impunity.

The ICRC's experience has taught us how important it is to ensure that all efforts to build national capacity be made from the national perspective. For those efforts to succeed, account must be taken of the legal and institutional traditions in place. The ICRC would like to emphasize the role that can by played in this respect by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Their participation offers a twofold advantage. They not only bring relevant local knowledge but, thanks to their role with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, they are also well informed about international trends and the possibilities for international support.

The ICRC actively promotes the rule of law both at the national and international level. Internationally it takes every opportunity to strive to ensure that all agreements drafted and adopted are in full accordance with international humanitarian law. At the national level, our Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law provides States with direct technical support in drafting national legislation. The ICRC also facilitates the setting up of national interministerial committees for the implementation of international humanitarian law. The Service has fashioned a number of tools designed to help the States in their efforts. These include an implementation manual published in 2010 and now available in six languages. It is available on the ICRC website. The ICRC also organizes regional and broader international meetings to provide fora for fruitful exchange between States on implementing and complying with the law. An example was the Third universal meeting of National Committees on the implementation of international humanitarian law, held in Geneva in October 2010. The participants stressed the vital role played by national committees or other similar bodies in the search for ways to fully implement the law in a manner best suited to the State concerned. They expressed the conviction that such national, inter-ministerial bodies are well suited for both internal dialogue and structured exchange with other countries facing similar problems.

The ICRC will continue to closely monitor discussions within the Sixth Committee on the rule of law, including the issue of transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict settings. It is our hope that we can help bring about greater respect for international law, in particular international humanitarian law, and help boost the struggle against impunity. The ICRC is ready to make its contribution to the work of the Sixth Committee and to the reports of the Secretary-General in this realm and to continue, on request, to support States in their own efforts.