|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
12th Meeting (AM)
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Needs Greater Adherence to Geneva
Convention Protocols, Assembly’s Legal Committee Is Told
Lines between War and Peace, Civilians and Armed Groups Said to Exist No Longer
As the Sixth Committee (Legal) began its deliberations on the status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, delegates expressed grave concerns about the accountability of Member States and urged greater compliance to all provisions in the Conventions and Additional Protocols.
The representative of Malawi, on behalf of the African Group, said that purported respect by States for international humanitarian law did not reflect the reality on the ground. Various conflicts in Africa continued to result in a high death toll, along with other “various forms of misery”. With more than 10 million internally displaced persons in the majority of East and Central Africa countries, the ratification of the Additional Protocols, which were “fundamental landmarks”, would be a significant example of the international community’s interest in the protection of victims during armed conflicts.
Monaco’s representative said the line between war and peace no longer existed, nor was there a clear distinction between civilians and armed groups. With civilian populations becoming “blind victims of armed conflict” and children being recruited as combatants, traditional humanitarian law no longer sufficed to protect victims. In order to protect civilians in all areas of their lives, global efforts were needed on both national and international levels.
The delegate of Libya said that the Geneva Conventions, among the “most important documents” of international humanitarian law, as well as the efforts to incorporate the Additional Protocols, had not prevented occupying authorities from “acting as they see fit” in documented activities defined by international law as war crimes. He urged that Member States move forward and implement the Additional Protocols without double standards, and that those who violated these tenets be subjected to the law regardless of who they are.
Speaking for the European Union, the delegate of Belgium said that because violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflict often resulted in civilian victims, “enhancing their protection must be our common goal”. Because international humanitarian law was one of the strongest tools in doing so, he stressed that the proper training of armed forces was crucial in efforts towards compliance with international humanitarian law during armed conflict.
Argentina’s representative said that in order to apply and promote international humanitarian law, information and knowledge of its obligations needed to be disseminated. The universal acceptance of the Additional Protocols would contribute to a broader understanding of international humanitarian law. She also urged that the role of the Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission be accepted as an impartial fact-finding mechanism investigating serious allegations of war crimes.
Other speakers on the Additional Protocols were the representatives of Sweden for the Nordic countries, and Chile for the Rio Group of countries.
Also speaking were the representatives of Belarus, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Earlier, the Committee concluded its discussions on the rule of law, with the representative from Algeria decrying the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups in cases of hostage taking. He said that such payments only further endangered people, undermined the rule of law and encouraged the practice even more.
Also speaking on the rule of law was the representative of Malaysia.
The debate on the principle of universal jurisdiction for certain crimes was also concluded today. Israel’s delegate said that no hasty consideration of this “highly sensitive issue” should be made, and that the principle be exercised only as a last resort, in deference to States with primary jurisdictional links and only after all other relevant venues had been pursued.
Others speaking today on universal jurisdiction were the representatives of Iran, Chile, Brazil, Sweden, Venezuela, Sudan, Malaysia, United Kingdom, India, Liechtenstein, Lesotho and Nigeria.
The Permanent Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke.
The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, 18 October, when discussion on the Additional Protocols is expected to be concluded, and two new items will be taken up: one on measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of United Nations missions and representatives, and the other on the Charter of the United Nations and the strengthening the role of the Organization.
The Sixth Committee (Legal) met today to conclude its current consideration of the rule of law at national and international levels, and also the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. It was also to take up two new items, one on protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions and the other on protections for diplomatic facilities. (For background on the rule of law and universal jurisdiction items, see Press Release GA/L/3390 of 12 October.)
The Committee had before it the report on the status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflict (document A/65/138), which contains information from 17 Member States and the International Red Cross on measures taken to strengthen the existing body of international humanitarian law in order to protect victims of armed conflict, as directed in the Additional Protocols of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions. Those States are Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Iraq, Ireland, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan and Yemen.
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 achieved universal acceptance in 2006. The two Protocols of 1977 entered into force in 1979, the first relating to the protection of victims involved in international armed conflicts and the second relating to protection during non-international armed conflicts. An Annex to the report contains a list of the States parties to the Additional Protocols as of 2 June 2010.
The Secretary-General’s report on consideration of effective measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives (document A/65/112 and Add. 1) provides an overview of reports by twenty-nine States of serious violations of the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives, as well as of missions and representatives with diplomatic status to international intergovernmental organizations. It also includes responses from States with their views on measures needed or steps taken to enhance the security of international governmental organizations with status at the diplomatic level.
The report further indicates that four additional States became participants to the relevant conventions.
The instruments covered in the report with the status of States having signed or ratified include: the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (60 signed; 186 ratified) and two related 1961 Optional Protocols, one concerning Acquisition of Nationality (18;51) and the other concerning Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (29;66); the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (48;172) and the two associated 1963 Optional Protocols, one again concerning Acquisition of Nationality (19;39) and the other Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (38;48); and finally, the 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents (25;172).
Also to be considered this morning was a draft decision on the administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/C.6/65/L.2) introduced by the Chair of the Working Group.
Statements: Rule of Law
FARHINI AHMAD TAJUDDIN ( Malaysia) regretted the lack of time to review the relevant documents because of their late availability. With regards to the rule of law, she said her country worked with in the process of adoption of transformation and a dual system which implemented international treaties within domestic legislation, once Malaysia became party to them. A committee on international treaties assessed the impact on domestic legislation of bilateral, regional, multilateral and international agreements to ensure that any domestic legislation would be in line with the treaty being considered. Thus, she said, treaties would be respected in good faith.
She then offered several recent examples, including her country’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which, once signed and ratified, was incorporated into approved domestic policy, giving direction to create appropriate programmes. Malaysia also continued to take action in implementing the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, through its penal code and through legislation on trafficking. Besides the legislative framework, the Government was also implementing programs that protected the rights of children.
FARID DAHMANE (Algeria), noting that his country was party to many international agreements, including twelve of the thirteen on combating terrorism, said its efforts to incorporate international law into the domestic legal framework had not met with any difficulties. These were facilitated by presidential decrees and regulatory acts, and in cases of conflict the international treaty held primacy over the domestic legislation. Furthermore, these international norms could be invoked by Algerian citizens. The rule of law was of great importance, and to that end his country had been one of the first to accede to the peer evaluation process. However, he added, in incorporating international law into domestic legislation, full respect for international law could not accommodate any “grey areas” where norms were contradicted by practices on the ground.
Hostage-taking by terrorist groups and the paying of ransoms ran counter to international law and was against the spirit of the rule of law on a national and international level. He said Algeria was making great efforts to dry up sources of terrorist financing “in the face of millions given to terrorist groups”. Paying ransoms would only further endanger people, undermine the rule of law and increase further hostage taking. He requested that future reports on the rule of law by the Secretary-General address this serious issue.
Statements: Principle of Universal Jurisdiction
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), said principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter, particularly the sovereign equality of States and their political independence and non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, needed to be strictly observed in any judicial proceedings. When national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction exercised criminal jurisdiction of high-ranking officials, this violated the sovereignty of States, which was a core principle of international law. Thus, the immunity of State officials should be fully respected.
Although universal jurisdiction, he said, was to be used as a tool to prosecute perpetrators of certain serious crimes under international treaties, there had to be concern over the range of crimes and the application of the principle. This was especially the case when the invocation of the principle was directed toward some Member States of the Movement; further clarification was needed to prevent misapplication or improper use. To that end, he said the decisions and judgments of the International Court of Justice and the work of the International Law Commission could be utilized as sources in exploring outstanding questions and concerns. He also stressed caution against “the unwarranted expansion of the crimes under universal jurisdiction” and urged that Member States actively participate in those discussions, in order to clarify the scope and application of the principle.
ALEJANDRA QUEZADA ( Chile) said universal jurisdiction was a concept which was, or should be, restrictive and therefore applied exceptionally, limited strictly to criminal matters. It should apply only to serious crimes defined by international law, such as piracy, and as embodied in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocol I regarding war crimes. However, the concept might also be applied on the basis of international law, and more specifically, of international treaty law. The aim would be ending impunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, which were so serious as to have rules allowing for the exercise of such jurisdiction.
The principle of territoriality should be followed with regard to jurisdiction. For universal jurisdiction to apply, a State’s competence to exercise it must be established in a broadly accepted international treaty. A State could not exercise its jurisdiction unless the State that should normally exercise it was not prepared to carry out the investigation or prosecution. Jurisdictional immunities recognized by international law should be understood and applied in a manner compatible with the international community’s defence of values, such as the fight against impunity for serious crimes. As there might be doubts about the correct application of universal jurisdiction, or the possibility it could be abused, she urged agreeing on rules to resolve such situations, notably by ensuring the traditional procedural channels existed for appeals.
ADY SCHONMANN ( Israel) said a significant number of States recognized that the concept of universal jurisdiction was an additional, complementary mechanism in the collective system of criminal justice, and many were of the view that the principle required the accused to be present in the territory of the forum State. There was also a considerable divergence of views as to the material scope, particularly in relation to treaties. There should be no hasty consideration of the highly sensitive and important issue requiring broad-based agreement. Also, the treaty-based obligation to prosecute or extradite was different from universal jurisdiction. In other words, the obligation did not imply any indication of the seriousness of a crime while the principle of universal jurisdiction did.
A major safeguard in the exercise of universal jurisdiction resided in its subsidiary nature, she said. The principle should be exercised only as a last resort, in deference to States with primary jurisdictional links, and only after all other relevant venues had been pursued. Even when States had authority to assert universal jurisdiction, they must carefully assert broad prosecutorial discretion in determining whether to do so. Israel’s domestic legislation required consent of a senior Government authority as an added safeguard. Ultimately, it was premature to consider a specific outcome on the matter. States should submit observations and views if they had not yet done so.
MARCELO BÖHLKE ( Brazil) said the question of universal jurisdiction needed to be carefully analyzed and discussed in light of legal implications and to ensure that important principles and norms of international law were fully respected. There were still more questions than answers when it came to the scope and application of universal jurisdiction. It was not clear whether the term referred to a principle, a norm, or a rule. The first step should be to find an acceptable definition and he noted that the positions of many delegations were similar.
For many, he went on, the term constituted an exception to the more consolidated principles of territoriality and personality (or nationality), both active and passive. In case the territoriality and personality principles were not adequately or efficiently applied, a third State, which had no connection whatsoever with the crime or alleged criminal, could make use of universal jurisdiction to try those responsible for the criminal act in order to end impunity.
He observed that one of the most contentious issues was the application of universal jurisdiction and the principle of justice, while upholding the jurisdictional immunities of State officials. He hoped dialogue would be resumed next year, addressing more specific details of universal jurisdiction, preferably in the framework of an open-ended working group, to which the General Assembly should assign a clear mandate.
HILDING LUNDKVIST ( Sweden) said the right to exercise universal jurisdiction should not be confused with the obligation to respect immunities for certain officials. States had a right and an obligation to either prosecute or extradite persons suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or torture. The exercise of universal jurisdiction was a matter of national competence, based on principles of international law. It was of utmost importance that the rule of law governed national judicial systems to ensure an impartial and fair trial for all parties involved in an investigation or prosecution of international crimes. He said Sweden was willing to assist others develop the capacity to deal with national prosecution of core crimes, and it stood ready to continue dialogue on the principle of universal jurisdiction.
JORGE VALERO ( Venezuela) said universal jurisdiction was a principle lacking legal clarity as to its application and scope. To ensure its impartial and objective application, it was necessary to develop clear and transparent mechanisms, which could avoid biased interpretation leading to interventionist actions, which could violate the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States. The principle could be understood as the vindication by a State of its criminal jurisdiction when a crime was allegedly committed by nationals of other States in the territory of another State and against a national of another State, without posing a direct threat to vital interests of the State exercising criminal jurisdiction.
He said Venezuela considered that universal jurisdiction should be applied only when taking into account the jurisdictional immunity guaranteed by international law to State officials.
AMANUEL YOANES AJAWIN ( Sudan) said the principle of universal jurisdiction could be described as going through its infancy. The doctrine did not apply to all crimes, but a narrow group of them at the level of piracy. With regard to the notion of adding other crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and slavery, it should be kept in mind that the acid test had come in the famous case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo versus the Netherlands, when the International Court of Justice had ruled that arrest warrants against high level officials were invalid. The concept was a general principle that lacked the clear and precise definition required by international law. Some held that universal jurisdiction was rooted in customary law. In that case, all States could hold separate trials in their national courts in any given situation. A working group should be established to consider the elements involved.
MD SIRAT ABU (Malaysia) said his country maintained its position of approaching the issue of universal jurisdiction cautiously, consistent with the Report by the Secretary-General thus far, which proved that the recognition by Member States of the principle of universal jurisdiction remained divided, in particular on its scope and understanding. It was still a matter of much debate, both legally and politically. In addition, its implementation varied in those States which claimed the jurisdiction.
Malaysia reiterated its understanding that treaty obligations did not necessarily establish universal jurisdiction in all instances. For Malaysia to give effect to a treaty obligation, it must first enact its domestic legislation. The domestic legislation would then empower Malaysia to claim extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction over offences stipulated under the treaty to which Malaysia was a party. Malaysia found merit in further discussion on the subject, he continued, but this must be exhausted in the Sixth Committee before taking place elsewhere.
CATHERINE ADAMS ( United Kingdom) said that the term universal jurisdiction properly referred to national jurisdiction established over a crime irrespective of the place of perpetration, the nationality of the suspect or the victim, or other links between the crime and the prosecuting State. The main rationale for universal jurisdiction was that the most serious international crimes affected the international legal order as a whole and that all States should, therefore, be able to prosecute them.
She said the United Kingdom considered that under international law, universal jurisdiction, in its true sense, was clearly established only for a limited number of specific crimes, namely piracy and war crimes, including grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Her country acknowledged that there was a further limited group of crimes which some States considered to attract universal jurisdiction — including genocide and crimes against humanity — but there was a lack of international consensus on that issue. Those crimes were not underpinned by treaties providing for universal jurisdiction. sAccordingly, a careful study would be required to determine whether they were established under customary international law as crimes of universal jurisdiction, and whether there were conditions for the exercise of such jurisdiction.
Her country’s legal system was built on the tradition that, as a general rule, the authorities of the State in whose territory an offence was committed were best placed to prosecute that crime, in particular because of the availability of evidence and witnesses, and the visibility of justice for victims. However, the exercise of territorial jurisdiction was not always possible. In such cases, while it would not be the option of first resort, universal jurisdiction could be a necessary and important tool to ensure that the perpetrators of serious crimes did not escape justice. The Secretary-General’s report made clear that there was a diversity of views among Member States on the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction; it would therefore be premature to conclude that the time was ripe for the adoption of new international instruments on the issue.
PRADIP CHOUDHARY ( India) said that because of its close link to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, universal jurisdiction was of great importance. However, although the Secretary-General’s report had given an overview of Government comments, it would have been helpful to have had a compilation of the views of the 45 responding States on the principle. The topic was at such an early stage of discussion that to have had the views and comments of those States included in the report would have been useful in understanding different delegates’ perspectives.
In fostering the rule of law on national and international platforms, he said impunity against serious crimes could not be allowed. The principle of “extradite or prosecute” was a crucial component of this requirement. A distinction must be made between the exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction and the exercise of universal jurisdiction. He said all these complex issues needed further examination and consideration, and his delegation was flexible as to the format in which that would take place.
STEFAN BARRIGA ( Liechtenstein) noted that while questions remained regarding the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction remained, there was general agreement on the underlying principle, namely the goal of ending impunity for the most serious crime of international concern. Furthermore, there was no question that the primary responsibility to prosecute perpetrators rested with those States on whose territory the crimes were committed.
He went on to say that universal jurisdiction related only to domestic jurisdiction and must be clearly distinguished from international courts and tribunals, and the Sixth Committee was not the place to discuss activities governed by the Rome Statute. He observed that norms of international law relating to immunities of State officials from foreign jurisdiction did not differentiate according to the basis for jurisdiction applied in a particular case. The States involved should use existing mechanisms for dispute resolution, in particular the International Court of Justice.
MOTLATSI RAMAFOLE ( Lesotho) said his delegation did not question the legality of the principle of universal jurisdiction in international law, and that the acceptance of universal jurisdiction for certain international crimes of a serious nature was based on the support for the fight against impunity and the quest for justice. However, some practical challenges needed to be addressed in relation to that principle, and the General Assembly was the appropriate body to do so.
The fundamental issues propelling the African Union to table that matter before the United Nations General Assembly related to the politicization of the principle by applying it selectively to certain African countries. Beyond the political problems, there were also legal complexities that needed to be resolved relating to the scope of the Universal Jurisdiction beyond treaty law. It was necessary, he said, to establish areas where universal jurisdiction could be exercised in the absence of a treaty. This ought to only be applicable to such crimes considered by the international community as the most heinous.
MARIA LAOSE ( Nigeria) said his country viewed crimes such as genocide, war crimes, torture and extrajudicial executions as offences against humanity, requiring States to bring those responsible to justice. The principle of universal jurisdiction was intended to be established, regardless of where the offence took place, the nationality of the victim or perpetrator, or the effect of the crime on the State exercising jurisdiction. Rules must be devised to guide application of the principle, and clarity given to the rights and obligations of States under it, so as to minimize the risk of misuse. Unless adequately defined and understood by all States, universal jurisdiction could not be enforced as presently construed.
While supporting the move to end impunity, she said the application of universal jurisdiction should respect the sovereign equality of States. The desire to end impunity must not itself generate abuse of the principle. Uncontrolled and unregulated application, as well as ambiguities in its scope, should be addressed by establishing benchmarks that clarified the scope of the principle and limits in a way that did not diminish its objective. She urged embedding tested guarantees against abuse into the principle, stressing that application should be approached with caution and be entrusted to the International Law Commission for advice.
ROBERT YOUNG, observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the exercise of universal jurisdiction was an obligation imposed on States by the universally ratified Geneva Conventions. Numerous States had given effect to the obligation in national legislation, but too many had not established universal jurisdiction over grave breaches in their own legal order. Further, State practice had confirmed the customary principle that States may establish universal jurisdiction over grave crimes beyond those included in the Geneva Conventions.
Universal jurisdiction, he went on, was not the only avenue for fighting impunity. In fact, the traditional bases of criminal jurisdiction, either personal or territorial, could remain the main tools for doing so. States must investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their nationals or armed forces, and those allegedly committed on their territory, and they must prosecute as appropriate. Universal jurisdiction was a measure of last resort, when States failed to act and all other recourses had been exhausted. States must ensure that proper national legislation was in place for preventing impunity for grave crimes.
Statements: Additional Geneva Protocol
When the Sixth Committee began discussing on the status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, JEAN-CÉDRIC JANSSENS DE BISTHOVEN (Belgium), speaking for the European Union, said that because to the nature of armed conflicts, civilians were frequently the victims of serious violations of international humanitarian law and “enhancing their protection must be our common goal”. In 2009, marking the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the European Union held a conference with representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to address challenges to compliance with international humanitarian law. That year, the Union also updated its guidelines on promoting compliance, and he underscored the close link between these guidelines and the Union’s guidelines on human rights, including those addressing children and armed conflict, violence against women and torture.
He said actions by the European Union supported and complemented the Organization’s efforts, including relevant Security Council resolutions. Specifically, the adoption of Security Council resolution 1894 which promoted the protection of civilians in armed conflict was of great importance and the European Union subsequently updated its 2003 policy on the protection of civilians in crisis management operations led by the Union. He said the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions were generally recognized as “customary international law”. He urged all Member States to accede to them, and to consider accepting the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission with regards to the relevant articles of the First Additional Protocol.
He commended the ICRC for its “outstanding work as guardian of international humanitarian law” and underscored that proper training of armed forces was indispensable for compliance with international humanitarian law in armed conflict. In that connection, he said, he welcomed the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the recent successful conclusion of the Review Conference of the Rome Statute in Kampala.
HILDING LUNDKVIST (Sweden), speaking also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, said it was necessary to continue discussions on how to improve the protection of victims of armed conflict. There was much to be done towards achieving universal compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Although adherence to and acceptance of the 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions had increased, joint efforts toward their promotion and improvement “must remain a priority”. He heralded the recent developments in international humanitarian law including, among others, the entering into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions this past August.
He then commended the International Committee of the Red Cross for its efforts in the dissemination and promotion of international humanitarian law. He said he supported the ICRC’s initiation of a discussion on improving protection of victims of armed conflicts, which was part of the ongoing “Copenhagen Process” on the handling of detainees in international military operations. He urged Member States to accept the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission in cases of grave breaches of international humanitarian law. and he expressed his support for the Security Council’s decision to utilize the Commission when gathering information on alleged violations of applicable international law relating to the protection of civilians.
Turning to the International Criminal Court, he said continued efforts towards achieving universal adherence to the Rome Statutes was vital; contracting Member States should support and cooperate with the Court so that it would be able to fulfil its mandate. He underscored the responsibility of States to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; where this did not occur, the United Nations had the responsibility to act toward providing such protection.
ALEJANDRA QUEZADA ( Chile), for the Rio Group of countries, called on States to provide information on progress in their domestic legislation regarding application and promotion of international humanitarian law. She said the armed conflicts of today’s world posed new challenges in protecting civilians. One way the Legal Committee could contribute to meeting new needs was to examine the convenience of clarifying or complementing already codified humanitarian law, in light of the new challenges posed by contemporary armed conflicts.
She said national committees on international humanitarian law were intended to advise national authorities on implementation. A great majority of Rio Group countries had such committees, and exchanges of experience in that context were very useful in implementing humanitarian law. States must also train public officials, whose functions warranted, to be aware of international humanitarian law. It could be introduced as a subject in the curricula of law schools. Judges, ministry officials and members of the military must also be trained in international humanitarian law.
Touching on events emanating from the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, she noted the work of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission and said that international humanitarian law imposed obligations on States and individuals. Any breach could involve international responsibility or international criminal responsibility or both. While progress had been made in implementing international humanitarian law at the international and national levels, she said the goals of ending impunity and attaining the principle of justice for all were still far off. The first step to achieving those objectives was to strengthen the international humanitarian law regime though universal acceptance.
MIKE MWANYULA (Malawi), on behalf of the African Group, said that while 53 Member States had ratified the four Geneva Conventions, the manifestation of respect for international humanitarian law by State parties did not reflect the reality on the ground. Armed groups were involved in most conflicts, which remained the driving force of population displacement on the African continent. The situation was characterized by severe child malnutrition, loss of livestock and livelihoods, as well as ongoing displacement because of continued clashes between opposing parties in affected areas. In 10 of the 18 countries in East and Central Africa, there were more than 10 million internally displaced persons, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In that situation, the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons would, if ratified, fill a void in international humanitarian law.
As various conflicts continued to bring about a high death toll and “various forms of misery on our continent”, he said the African Group reaffirmed its strong support for humanitarian law. The additional protocols under consideration were fundamental landmarks which, if ratified, would be applicable to all armed conflicts and relevant to all parties. Such progress was significant if the international community were to have sustainable interest in the protection of victims during armed conflicts. In that regard, he welcomed the Member States to strengthen their awareness and training campaigns in order to promote International Humanitarian Law.
He acknowledged the launch of new monitoring mechanisms, but requested clarification on the ICRC study to assess the humanitarian concerns arising in today’s conflicts, in particular, he said, those which were non-international. This would address the gaps and weaknesses in the current treaty and customary law.
SAMIR GOUIDER ( Libya) said the Geneva Conventions were among the most important documents of international humanitarian law. He recalled the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit addressing the protection of victims of armed conflicts and the continued efforts in implanting the Additional Protocols. However, he asserted, this had not prevented occupying authorities from “acting as they see fit”, and the many instances of impunity and illegal practices, including those of private security companies, were well known.
He said that various documents, resolutions and reports, including the Goldstone Report on practices of the Occupying Authority in the Gaza Strip, documented activities that were defined by international law as war crimes. These included, among others, premeditated attacks on the civilian population, children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as internal displacements and detainment, and a blockade that impacted the infrastructure, hospitals and the basic necessities of a normal life. Noting that the General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to report on such matters, he urged that Member States move forward and implement the Additional Protocols without double standards and that those who violated to be subjected to the law regardless of who they are
CHRISTOPHE GONZALEZ ( Monaco) said civilian populations were “a powerless group of blind victims” in an armed conflict. Children were among the most vulnerable, and the danger they faced was constantly increasing as they were recruited as combatants. Monaco had ratified numerous instruments to protect its citizens; among the most critical areas to be addressed involved the protection of civilian humanitarian workers engaged in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
He said no clearly distinguishable line between war and peace existed any longer, and there was no clear distinction between civilians and armed groups. Likewise, national conflicts became matters of international concern and new humanitarian dimensions to armed conflict appeared with every clash. Situations such as trafficking and terrorism impacted civilians under conditions of armed conflict. Consequently, traditional humanitarian law no longer sufficed to protect victims. Concerted international effort was required at national and international levels to ensure that civilians were protected in all areas of their lives.
ANDREW AVRAMENKO ( Belarus) said his country had signed the protocols additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and was implementing their provisions through legislative and other actions. Among other measures, it had adopted the red crystal emblem of the ICRC relating to the protection of armed service humanitarian personnel. A Youth for Peace rally had been held with students from all regions participating.
He said his country’s dedication to advancing humanitarian protections was evident in the holding of events to commemorate major landmarks in the evolution of those protections. For example, a statue of Red Cross founder Henry Dunant had been unveiled at an international ceremony held in Minsk in May on the eve of World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Belarus had also participated in the 2009 International Humanitarian conference that had led to a regional exchange of experience, which had built on the outcome of the fourth meeting of Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 2006. States should expend all efforts towards universal acceptance of the important protocols related to protecting civilians.
MAGED ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said that although the United Nations had exerted tremendous efforts to minimize the negative impacts of the horrors of war on civilian populations, civilians were still suffering in massive numbers around the world. In light of that, priority should be given to promoting knowledge of, respect for, and observance of the obligations of States parties assumed under International Humanitarian Law, in particular those of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their 1977 Protocols. He called on all parties to armed conflicts to redouble their efforts to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. He condemned the increasing attacks on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, and urged the Governments of United Nations Member States to ensure respect for the protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations in conformity with the relevant provisions of international law.
As for the use of weapons that were of non-discriminatory nature and led to massive casualties in the civilian population, he said Egypt stressed its concern over the threat to humanity posed by the continued existence of weapons of mass destruction. He condemned the serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the Israeli military operations against Gaza, including the destruction of facilities of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and World Food Programme (WFP). The Government of Switzerland, as depository of the four Geneva Conventions, must follow up on the applicability of those conventions and ensure their implementation by all concerned parties.
FERNANDA MILLICAY ( Argentina) said the debate was, in fact, on international humanitarian law in general. To apply and promote international humanitarian law, it was critical to disseminate the knowledge of obligations it imposed. Argentina was one of 72 States that had accepted the role of the Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to investigate alleged serious violations, but the Commission could function only if all concerned parties accepted it. She called on States to consider accepting the competence of the Commission, as it provided an impartial fact-finding mechanism.
Universal acceptance of the Additional Protocols of the 1949 Geneva Convention would clearly contribute to full respect of international humanitarian law, she said, and Argentina called on all States to adhere to them.
Mr. AL HAMMADI ( United Arab Emirates), regretting some of the actions of armed persons against civilians, called for a more credible and transparent policy that upheld the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols. He said protecting the victims and identifying and bringing to justice perpetrators through the mechanisms of international laws would contribute toward mitigating acts of revenge and enhancing cooperation between countries, as well as supporting the rebuilding of States. His country had ratified the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols out of its conviction to respect the dignity and rights of people to live in prosperity.
He said that countries must abide by the Conventions and Protocols, and he expressed concern at Israel’s activities in occupied territories still under its control. Such violations, he asserted, included aggression, genocide, siege and the seizing of lands, as well as the impact on infrastructures, including those of the Palestinian Authority, despite the relevant Security Council resolutions. All provisions of the Conventions applied to Israel, he said, and he called for the international community, the United Nations and the permanent Members of the Security Council to undertake effective international measures to stop “these dangerous actions by Israel”.
Draft on Administration of Justice at United Nations
The Chair of the Working Group, the representative of Malaysia, gave an oral report on the Working Group’s deliberations and then introduced a draft decision on the Administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/C.6/65/L.2) which would have the Assembly decide to continue consideration of the item in context of the Sixth Committee (Legal) and the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).
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