Sixth Committee (Legal) — 75th 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)

Documentation

Summary of work

Background (source: A/75/100)

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, 71/144 and 73/204).

At its seventy-third session, the Assembly allocated the item to the Sixth Committee, where statements in the debate were made by 24 delegations (see A/C.6/73/SR.16 and 17). The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit to it at its seventy-fifth 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 73/204).

Consideration at the seventy-fifth session

The Sixth Committee considered the item at its 12th and 19th meetings, on 4 and 19 November 2020 (see A/C.6/75/SR.12 and A/C.6/75/SR.19).

Statements were made by the representatives of the European Union (also on behalf of its member States (the candidate countries the Republic of North 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 (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway (Nordic countries)), New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ)), Syrian Arab Republic, Philippines, United States of America, El Salvador, Switzerland, the Sudan, Israel, Cuba [in English], Portugal, the Russian Federation, Monaco, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ukraine, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Armenia. The observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross made a statement. A statement was also made by Azerbaijan in the exercise of the right to reply.

Delegations generally welcomed the most recent report of the Secretary-General (A/75/263) and reaffirmed their strong commitment to the full implementation of IHL and the need for all parties to respect IHL, recalling the centrality of the Geneva Conventions and the Protocols Additional thereto in this context. Several delegations called for wider participation in the Protocols as well as in other relevant IHL instruments and for greater compliance with their content. Some delegations expressed concern over the lack of implementation of and respect for IHL norms in practice. Delegations also highlighted the changing and increasingly complex nature of conflicts, leading to questions regarding scope and classification of conflicts, including given the significant increase in non-international armed conflicts and the emergence of new technologies. 

Many delegations noted with regret the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which rendered civilian populations even more vulnerable and underscored the increased importance of humanitarian assistance and health and medical efforts relating to IHL. Several delegations also recalled the appeal of the Secretary-General for a global ceasefire in this respect.

A number of delegations reiterated the vital role of the work of the ICRC as well as of the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in the promotion of IHL. The outcome of the thirty-third International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in 2019, was generally welcomed, particularly with respect to Resolution 1 entitled “Bringing IHL home: A road map for better national implementation of international humanitarian law”. Several delegations noted with satisfaction the ICRC’s updated 2020 Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Armed Conflict, and some also looked forward to the results from the ICRC Study on the Protection of Health Care by State Armed Forces. In follow up to the 33rd Conference, States were also encouraged to publish voluntary reports on the implementation of IHL. Some delegations also stressed the need for the ICRC to consult with States more in drafting commentaries.

Several delegations drew attention to their respective national implementation measures regarding IHL, and invited States to incorporate IHL into national policies, military manuals, and legal frameworks. Some delegations also provided information on regional initiatives to disseminate and implement IHL. Some delegations underlined the work of national committees to strengthen compliance with IHL, stressing their role in capacity building, training and education toward the implementation, dissemination and development of IHL. The 2018 conference celebrating the 150th anniversary of 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles was also recalled.

Delegations emphasized the importance of protecting civilians in armed conflicts, in particular children and women. Some delegations underlined the obligation to avoid attacks on civilian objects, including hospitals, schools, cultural heritage sites, humanitarian convoys as well as medical and humanitarian personnel. Relatedly, several delegations  recalled that IHL condemns attacks on the sick and wounded as well as on medical personnel and facilities, and stressed the protection of healthcare provision in armed conflicts especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, several delegations recalled the importance of the implementation of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016). Some delegations further stressed the importance of adopting an integrated gender perspective in the implementation of IHL and promoting women’s leadership as well as the rights of women and girls affected by conflicts, while Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was also mentioned. Some delegations also highlighted the importance of combating sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts and strengthening justice for survivors.

Several delegations stressed that many rules contained in the Additional Protocols reflected customary international law, and as such, must be complied with, while others  expressed concerns with respect to the Protocols and the legal status of some of the provisions contained therein. The necessity to sufficiently address the conduct of non-state actors in armed conflicts was underlined. With respect to measures in the fight against international terrorism, the concern was expressed that such measures should not violate international humanitarian law.

Some delegations expressed support for and highlighted the potential of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, pursuant to Article 90 of the First Additional Protocol, including in securing guarantees afforded to victims of armed conflicts. Some delegations stressed the instrumental role played by the International Criminal Court and international criminal tribunals in promoting respect for IHL and in complementing States’ accountability efforts. Other delegations expressed reservations with respect to the jurisdiction of the ICC and the IIIM. Further discussion exploring other perspectives on accountability, including the role of universal jurisdiction and ways to strengthen cooperation on bringing forward national prosecutions, was also encouraged.

Archived videos and summaries of plenary meetings

Video   12th meeting (4 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Video   19th meeting (19 November 2020, 3:00pm – 6:00pm) | Summary

Action taken by the Sixth Committee

At the 19th meeting, on 19 November, the representative of Sweden, on behalf of Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, subsequently joined by Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Ecuador, Hungary, Luxembourg, Montenegro, San Marino, Ukraine and Uruguay, 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.6/75/L.11).

The Committee then adopted draft resolution A/C.6/75/L.11 without a vote. After the adoption of the draft resolution, the representative of the Philippines 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. In addition, the Assembly would note with appreciation the eight resolutions adopted at the thirty-third International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which took place in 2019, in particular resolution 1, entitled “Bringing IHL home: a road map for better national implementation of international humanitarian law”.

This agenda item will next be considered at the seventy-seventh session (2022).

Full texts of reports (A/75/263)

State Original reply Translation
Armenia English  
Austria English  
Belarus Russian English
Belgium French English
Bosnia and Herzegovina English  
Bulgaria English  
Czech Republic English  
Ecuador Spanish English
El Salvador Spanish English
Germany English  
Ireland English  
Lebanon Arabic English
Lithuania English  
English  
Mali French English
Philippines English  
English  
Qatar Arabic English
Sweden English  
Switzerland French English
Turkey English  
Ukraine English  
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland English  
 
Observer Original reply Translation
ICRC English  

 

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