Sixth Committee (Legal) — 73rd session

Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts (Agenda item 83)


Summary of work

Background (source: A/73/100)

The item entitled “State of signatures and ratifications of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I) and the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts (Protocol II)” was included in the agenda of the thirty-seventh session of the General Assembly at the request of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (A/37/142).

At its thirty-seventh session, the Assembly decided to include in the provisional agenda of its thirty-ninth session an item entitled “Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts: report of the Secretary-General” (resolution 37/116). The Assembly had the item on its agenda biennially at its thirty-ninth to forty-fifth sessions (resolutions 39/77, 41/72, 43/161 and 45/38).

At its forty-fifth session, the Assembly decided to include in the provisional agenda of its forty-seventh session an item entitled “Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts” (resolution 45/38). The Assembly has had the item on its agenda biennially since then (resolutions 47/30, 49/48, 51/155, 53/96, 55/148, 57/14, 59/36, 61/30, 63/125, 65/29, 67/93, 69/120 and 71/144).

At its seventy-first session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 25 delegations (see A/C.6/71/SR.10 and 11). The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly at its seventy-third 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 71/144).

Consideration at the seventy-third session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 16th, 17th and 35th meetings, on 17 and 18 October and on 13 November 2018 (see A/C.6/73/SR.16, 17 and 35).

Statements were made by the representatives of El Salvador [in English] (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), 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 Stabilisation 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), Canada [in English](also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Peru, Brazil, the Sudan, Cuba, Lebanon, Switzerland, Israel, the Russian Federation, Austria, Belarus, Monaco, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America, Bangladesh, El Salvador, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Morocco, Egypt, and Iran (Islamic Republic of). The observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross made a statement. Statements were also made by the Syrian Arab Republic, Israel and Myanmar in the exercise of the right to reply.

Delegations welcomed the latest Secretary-General’s report (A/73/277) and encouraged States that had not yet done so to provide the Secretary-General with information on their implementation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Delegations generally underlined the importance of the full implementation of and respect for IHL and recalled the importance of the Geneva Conventions and the Protocols Additional thereto, calling for wider participation in the Protocols as well as in other relevant instruments and full compliance with their content. A concern was expressed that certain States were redefining international law to escape their international responsibilities and to justify self-serving activities. The emergence of new technologies and the classification of modern armed conflicts were also highlighted as challenges in the implementation of IHL.

A number of delegations commended the work of the ICRC, as well as of the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. The outcome of the thirty-second International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in 2015, was underlined, in particular Resolution 1 for protecting persons deprived of their liberty, as well as the gender perspective in the implementation of IHL adopted in Resolution 3 on sexual and gender-based violence. Several delegations expressed support for the intergovernmental process to enhance IHL implementation included in Resolution 2 of the Conference and called on Member States to engage in the process of finding common ground in an active and constructive manner.

Delegations mentioned the thirty-third International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to be held in 2019, and the importance of reaching a constructive outcome on such occasion.

The progress in the participation of States in IHL treaties was welcomed, but the need for greater compliance with IHL was highlighted. Further discussions on other perspectives on accountability, including the role of universal jurisdiction and ways to strengthen cooperation on bringing forward national prosecutions were encouraged. The use of alternative international mechanisms that promote accountability was also welcomed, and it was suggested that the cooperation between international mechanisms and other actors be strengthened. It was stressed that national judicial institutions must be able to fulfill their responsibilities without foreign interference, especially from international tribunals whose competence is disputed.  

Several delegations drew attention to their respective national implementation measures of IHL. Some delegations also provided information on regional initiatives to disseminate and implement IHL. In this regard, the work of national committees to strengthen compliance with IHL was underlined. Some delegations suggested States which had not already done so, to establish national commissions with a capacity building and training role toward the implementation, dissemination and development of IHL.

Delegations also emphasized the importance of protecting civilians in armed conflicts. In this context, the principle of Responsibility to Protect was mentioned. 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. Some delegations recalled the importance of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) and its continued implementation. A number of delegations noted the importance of measures addressing missing persons in armed conflicts. The importance of combating sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflicts was also stressed.

With respect to measures in the fight against international 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 voiced their concerns regarding the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Some delegations highlighted the importance of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, pursuant to Article 90 of the First Additional Protocol. Several delegations stressed the important role played by the International Criminal Court and international criminal tribunals in promoting respect for IHL. The importance of the principle of complementarity, together with the pivotal role of domestic jurisdictions in prosecuting war crimes, was reaffirmed.

Archived videos of plenary meetings

Video   16th meeting (17 October 2018, 10:00am – 11:30am)

Video   17th meeting (18 October 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Video   35th meeting (13 November 2018, 10:00am – 1:00pm)

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 35th meeting, on 13 November, the representative of Sweden, on behalf of Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the Central African Republic, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Monaco, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uruguay, subsequently joined by Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Fiji, Georgia, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, San Marino and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 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.6/73/L.21).

At the same meeting, the representatives of the Sudan and Togo made statements in explanation of position before the adoption of the draft resolution. The Committee then adopted draft resolution A/C.6/73/L.21 without a vote. After the adoption of the draft resolution, the representative of the United States made a statement in explanation of position.

Under the terms of this draft resolution, the General 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 and 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 General 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, and call upon Member States to actively participate in the thirty-third International Conference, to be held in Geneva in 2019.

This agenda item will be considered at the seventy-fifth session (2020).

Full texts of reports (A/73/277)

State Original reply Translation
Austria English  
Belgium French  
Brazil English  
Cuba Spanish  
El Salvador Spanish  
Finland English  
Honduras Spanish  
Lebanon Arabic  
Luxembourg French  
Montenegro English  
Paraguay Spanish  
Peru Spanish  
Qatar Arabic  
Russian Federation Russian  
Slovenia English  
Spain Spanish  
Switzerland French  
Ukraine English  
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland English  
Observer Original reply Translation
ICRC English  


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