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

18-10-2006 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 61st session, Sixth Committee, item 75 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 18 October 2006

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Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor.

Mr. Chairman,

The past two years since the adoption of Resolution 59/39 have been marked by important developments in the field of international humanitarian law. The ICRC is pleased to also highlight that the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 recently achieved universal acceptance. The universality of these important instruments represents a powerful argument to counter those who insist that international humanitarian law is no longer adequate to deal with contemporary situations of armed conflict. The fact that all countries in the world have today acceded to the Geneva Conventions indicates that the international community as a whole has now undertaken to respect and to ensure respect for these treaties in all circumstances.

Another significant achievement of the last two years was the adoption last December, of the third Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the Adoption of an Additional Distinctive Emblem. This new protocol, which has already been ratified by 6 States, and has been signed by 76 States, recognizes the " red crystal " as an additional distinctive emblem enjoying the same international status and protection as the existing emblems of the red cross and red crescent. The new emblem will provide an additional protective device for the medical services of armed forces and Red Cross and Red Crescent humanitarian workers in conflicts where the existing emblems cannot provide protection because of perceptions of political, religious or other connotations. The ICRC looks forward to the entry into force of the third Additional Protocol on 14 January 2007.

The ICRC is also pleased to recognise that 166 States have to date acceded to Additional Protocol I and 162 to Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, we would like to note here the increased number of accessions to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Court has an essential role in the fight against impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law and related international crimes.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC wishes to acknowledge the significant progress achieved by States in the process of implementation of international humanitarian law in their domestic legal order and practice and is greatly encouraged by the Secretary General's Report (A/61/222) on the Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Convention of 1949 and relating to the Protection of victims of armed conflict, which highlights the commitment of many Governments in this field. In this respect, we would like to underline the work and important achievements of inter-ministerial committees on international humanitarian law, which have been set up today in 76 countries worldwide. The ICRC and its Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law have continued to develop a close cooperation with Governments and with existing national IHL committees on a wide range of aspects related to the implementation of humanitarian law at the domestic level, including the repression of serious violations of IHL, the protection of the emblems and other protected signs and signals, the implementation of the Ottawa Convention on anti-personal landmines, or the legal status and prot ection of the rights of missing persons and their families. Next spring we will convene the Second Universal Meeting of National IHL Committees with a specific focus on the role of these bodies in the adoption of preventive measures to avoid persons from becoming missing as a consequence of armed conflict or other situations of violence and to assist their families. 

Mr. Chairman,

We also wish to underline the completion and publication in the course of the year 2005 of the ICRC's Study on customary international humanitarian law. The Study, commissioned to the ICRC by the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, is the result of almost ten years of work. It is unique in that it represents the first global and thorough assessment of customary humanitarian law. The study contains a list of rules found to be customary, a short commentary explaining the nature of the rule, and a summary of practice.

The study has shown in particular that many rules that as treaty law only apply in international armed conflicts also apply in non-international armed conflicts. This should ultimately enhance the protection of the victims of such conflicts. The study will be a useful tool for a variety of groups, including States, armed forces, academics, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and national and international tribunals. The ICRC hopes by this publication to foster debate on the status and application of customary international humanitarian law.

The year 2007 will be marked by the XXXth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which will represent a unique opportunity to review with all States and all actors within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement the most important humanitarian issues and challenges of our contemporary international order. In preparation for this occasion, we would like to remind States of their collective co mmitments and individual pledges undertaken during the XXVIIIth International Conference held in 2003. It will be an institutional priority of the ICRC in the next year to encourage and support Governments to honour their commitments in regard to respect, implementation and dissemination of international humanitarian law.

At a time when armed conflicts continue to take their toll on human lives and on material means of survival, it is important to reaffirm the contribution of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and of their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005 to the protection of human dignity and the preservation of humanity in the midst of war. International humanitarian law remains the most effective legal framework governing the conduct of hostilities. This body of international law has been developed specifically to allow for the legitimate security needs of States, while respecting basic considerations of humanity. 

Mr. Chairman

Respect for IHL is primarily the responsibility of the States that have accepted it, which in turn determines the effectiveness of its principles and rules. It is as well the responsibility of non-State armed groups to respect IHL. Often, however, there is a lack of political will to take concrete action for the protection of war victims and to take the measures necessary to prevent, as well as to investigate and punish, violations of the law. Adhering to the letter of the law is only a first step. Governments must set up the legal framework and adopt the required measures for the national implementation and wide dissemination of international humanitarian law. The ICRC and its Advisory Service on IHL remain ever ready to lend their support to the initiatives undertaken by States in the advancement of the rules and principles of IHL.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.