Sixth Committee (Legal) — 71st session

Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts (Agenda item 81)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/71/100)

This item was included in the agenda of the thirty-seventh session of the General Assembly, in 1982, at the request of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (A/37/142).

The General Assembly considered the question biennially at its thirty-seventh to sixty-ninth sessions (resolutions 37/116, 39/77, 41/72, 43/161, 45/38, 47/30, 49/48, 51/155, 53/96, 55/148, 57/14, 59/36, 61/30, 63/125, 65/29, 67/93 and 69/120).

At its sixty-ninth session, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly at its seventy-first session a report on the status of the Additional Protocols relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, as well as on measures taken to strengthen the existing body of international humanitarian law, including with respect to its dissemination and full implementation at the national level, based on information received from Member States and the International Committee of the Red Cross (resolution 69/120).

Consideration at the seventy-first session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 10th, 11th and 33rd meetings, on 10 October and on 11 November 2016 (see A/C.6/71/SR.10, 11 and 33).

Statements were made by the representatives of the Dominican Republic (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Tunisia (on behalf of the Arab Group), the European Union, also on behalf of its Member States (the candidate countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania, the country of the Stabilization and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia aligned themselves with the statement), Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand), Cuba, Switzerland, El Salvador, Peru, Lebanon, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Togo, the United States of America, Liechtenstein, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Algeria, Israel, Bangladesh, and the Republic of Korea. The permanent observer for the State of Palestine made a statement. The observers for the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission and for the International Committee of the Red Cross made a statement. A statement was made by the Syrian Arab Republic in the exercise of the right to reply.

Delegations welcomed the most recent Secretary-General’s report (A/71/183), and several delegations urged all Member States to provide information for future reports. In general, delegations underlined the importance of the full implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and recalled the importance of the Geneva Conventions and the Protocols Additional thereto, stressing the need for those States that have not already done so to ratify the Protocols as well as to accede to other relevant instruments and to comply fully with their content. A number of delegations emphasized the core customary international law nature of aspects of those instruments. The concern was expressed that certain States were redefining international norms in order to escape their international responsibilities and to create a rationale for self-serving activities.

Delegations welcomed the work of the ICRC, as well as of the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, to assist on the drafting of national legislation on IHL, and their general support for the promotion and monitoring of IHL. Delegations recognized the outcome of the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in 2015, including the adoption of four resolutions on IHL. In particular, several delegations noted the importance of Resolution 1 on IHL for detained persons, and others underlined the importance of Resolution 3 on sexual and gender-based violence and of Resolution 4 on the delivery of healthcare. Several delegations commended the work of the ICRC and Switzerland on creating a potential forum of States to enhance IHL implementation, as included in Resolution 2 of the Conference. A number of delegations expressed disappointment that agreement was not found on a Meeting of States on compliance with IHL at the 32nd Conference, and hoped that such a mechanism could be established at the 33rd Conference in 2019. In welcoming the ICRC project to update the commentaries to the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, concern was expressed about certain substantive provisions contained therein, and the ICRC was urged to consult with States and receive their input when undertaking projects of such magnitude and importance.

The progress in the participation of States in IHL treaties was welcomed, but the need for greater compliance with IHL was highlighted too. In addition, areas remained where existing rules of IHL were insufficient, such as the protection of persons deprived of their liberty in non‑international armed conflicts.

Several delegations provided details on their national implementation measures of IHL. Some delegations also provided information on regional initiatives to disseminate and implement IHL, and the work of national committees in the dissemination and implementation of IHL was highlighted.

Delegations emphasised the necessity to fully respect civilians and not to target them during armed conflict. Several delegations underlined the necessity of ensuring access to humanitarian assistance for relief of those in need, and the obligation to avoid attacks on medical personnel and facilities as well as humanitarian convoys, noting Security Council resolution 2286 (2016). A number of delegations noted the importance of measures addressing missing persons. The importance of combating sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict was underlined.

With respect to measures in the fight against terrorism, the concern was expressed that such measures should not violate other fundamental international laws, and the impact of such measures on humanitarian work was mentioned. The necessity for the laws of armed conflict to regulate asymmetric warfare and sufficiently address the conduct of non-state parties to armed conflicts was also underlined.

A number of delegations expressed support for the idea of convening a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to examine measures for the enforcement of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Some delegations encouraged States to accept the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) pursuant to Article 90 of the First Additional Protocol.

Several delegations stressed the important role played by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and international criminal tribunals in promoting respect for IHL. The extension of the ICC jurisdiction over certain war crimes achieved at the ICC Rome Statute Review Conference in Kampala in 2010 and the need to ratify the corresponding amendments to the Statute were highlighted. The importance of the principle of complementarity, as well as the pivotal role of domestic jurisdictions in prosecuting war crimes, was reaffirmed.

Delegations commended the ICRC on its role in the promotion of IHL and monitoring and enhancing its mechanisms of compliance, as well as the work on domestic implementation of IHL. The States which had not already done so were invited to establish National Commissions with, inter alia, a capacity building and training role.

A number of delegations also highlighted the importance of the Montreux Document and of the Montreux Document forum, where issues relating to private security companies are being considered and best practices being shared.

The impact of the Arms Trade Treaty on human rights and IHL was also noted, and States that had not yet ratified the treaty were encouraged to do so.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   10th meeting (10 October 2016, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   11th meeting (10 October 2016, 3:00pm – 6:00pm)

Video   33rd meeting (11 November 2016, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 33rd meeting, on 11 November, the representative of Sweden, on behalf of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the State of Palestine, subsequently joined by France, Ghana, Italy and Lithuania, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts” (A/C.6/71/L.21).

At the same meeting, the representative of the Sudan made a statement in explanation of position before action was taken on the draft resolution. The Committee then adopted draft resolution A/C.6/71/L.21 without a vote. Under the terms of this draft resolution, the Assembly would, inter alia, reaffirm the necessity of making the implementation of international humanitarian law more effective, and support its further strengthening and development, including by considering becoming parties to the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions at the earliest possible date, as well as to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the two Protocols thereto, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. In addition, the Assembly would note with appreciation the 10 resolutions adopted at the Thirty-second International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which took place in 2015.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-third session (2018).

Full texts of reports (A/71/183 + Add.1)

State Original reply Translation
Austria English  
Belarus Russian English
Belgium French English
French English
Cuba Spanish English
El Salvador Spanish English
Greece English  
Lebanon Arabic English
Lithuania English  
Qatar Arabic English
Arabic English
Slovenia English  
Sweden English  
Switzerland French English
Turkey English  
Turkmenistan Russian English
United Arab Emirates English/Arabic  
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland English  
Observer Original reply Translation
ICRC English  


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