As international and non-international armed conflict becomes more complex, the universal ratification of the three Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions remains vital for the promotion of international humanitarian law, the Sixth Committee (Legal) heard today.
Before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report, Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts (document A/73/277).
The representative of Switzerland — which is the depositary of the Convention — pointed out that although the Geneva Conventions were universally ratified, the same cannot be said of the Additional Protocols, with 174 States party to the First Additional Protocol, 168 to the Second Additional Protocol and 74 to the Third Additional Protocol.
The Geneva Convention of 1864 and the Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868, said Brazil’s delegate, are at the origin of the idea that the “necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity”. It is not only a matter of developing new rules governing war, but of finding ways to ensure that they are respected, he stressed, calling on all States to engage constructively in the intergovernmental process aimed at strengthening compliance.
The representative of Sudan spotlighted the increasing complexity of applying international humanitarian law in contemporary armed conflict. He also posed the question of whether classification into international and non-international is sufficient to address the range of current armed conflict. There exist scenarios that can be classified as non-international conflicts, he said, noting new concerns regarding extraterritorial military operations and the rights and duties of the occupying State.
Civilians have been killed, injured and terrorized by chemical weapons, barrel bombs and conventional weapons, Canada’s delegate — also speaking for Australia and New Zealand — pointed out. In Syria alone, 1.5 million Syrians suffer from war-related injuries. Calling on all countries that have not yet done so to become parties to the three Additional Protocols as soon as possible, she stressed that the Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols are an important contribution to the body of international humanitarian law.
Also speaking today were representatives of El Salvador (speaking for Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Sweden (also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway), Peru, Cuba, Lebanon and Israel, as well as a representative from the European Union.
The Sixth Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 October, to continue to discuss the Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), called on States that had not yet done so to provide the Secretary-General with information on their domestic progress on the application and promotion of international humanitarian law. This would let the Sixth Committee examine how international humanitarian law is being applied at the national level and exchange views on mechanisms for domestic implementation. Regarding measures to prevent persons from going missing in connection with armed conflict, States hold the primary responsibility for the production and compulsory use by their armed forces of such items as identification tags.
The international community must ensure the application of international humanitarian law, he said. A key challenge is to ensure that combatants comply with the provisions of these laws in situations where humanitarian assistance for the relief of those in need is critical. It is also crucial to fully respect the civilian character of non-combatants in civilian facilities, as enshrined in international customary law. National commissions are intended to advise national authorities on the implementation, dissemination and development of international humanitarian law. Several CELAC members have established internal commissions on humanitarian law. These commissions play an important role in building the capacity of civil servants and members of the armed forces. These internal commissions can also help States move forward by training public officials whose functions require knowledge of the obligations imposed by international humanitarian law.
ERIC CHABOUREAU of the European Union said that he found it deeply alarming that war crimes, which cause tremendous harm around the globe, illustrate grave disregard for international law. Civilians remain the main victims of international and non-international armed conflicts. The European Union is strongly committed to promoting respect for international humanitarian law and to advancing respect for human dignity and the principles of international law. This commitment was affirmed in the European Union’s global strategy of 2016. Respect for international humanitarian law needs to be strengthened and enhanced, he said, and called for a more systematic and regular dialogue in that regard.
He also voiced his support for establishing a regular, universal and voluntary mechanism to strengthen that respect and allow for expanded dialogue. Accountability is crucial to ensure respect. Further, impunity must be removed and remedies for victims of violations must be provided. The responsibility to end impunity by prosecuting alleged perpetrators of the most serious crimes lies first and foremost with States. The European Union has been a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court since its creation and has used the instruments at its disposal to increase support of the Court. He emphasized the importance of complementarity and cooperation between national jurisdictions and noted that the Court was among the most important features of the Rome Statute.
IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden), also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, noted that the Secretary-General’s report paints a horrendous picture of the state of civilians in armed conflict around the world. They continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict, despite the rigorous legal framework in place. The Secretary-General had stressed that the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent armed conflict by addressing root causes and strengthening national institutions. It is imperative to uphold international norms of humanitarian laws, including by non-State parties to armed conflict.
“Every day we see violations of the most basic tenets of international law,” she said, adding that civilians, humanitarian workers and journalists are attacked all too often. The international community is also witnessing arbitrary denial of humanitarian access to persons in need, as well as attacks on medical facilities and personnel. “It is our obligation to protect those who provide assistance to the wounded,” she said, noting the landmark Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) condemning such attacks. Recognizing the heroic efforts of the many humanitarian personnel around the world, she thanked the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and called for the integration of the gender perspective in the implementation of international humanitarian law.
CATHERINE BOUCHER (Canada), also speaking for Australia and New Zealand, said that armed conflict continues to have a devastating effect in many regions. In Syria alone, 1.5 million Syrians suffer from war-related injuries. Civilians have been killed, injured and terrorized by chemical weapons, barrel bombs and conventional weapons. Such conflicts continue to demonstrate the importance of respect for international humanitarian law and underline the important contribution of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to the body of international humanitarian law.
States should strive to replicate the universal membership of the Geneva Conventions and ensure that the important protections provided by international humanitarian law are applied by all parties to an armed conflict at all times, she said. Those that have not yet become parties to the three Additional Protocols should do so as soon as possible. Many of the key rules contained in the Protocols reflect rules of customary international law and are therefore binding on all parties to armed conflict. For example, many of the articles of the First Additional Protocol on the protection of medical units, personnel and their transports reflect customary international law. She also underscored that article 13 of the Second Additional Protocol, prohibiting making civilians the object of attack, is inarguably customary international law.
ANGEL HORNA (Peru), noting that his country is party to the fundamental instruments covering international human rights law and humanitarian law, said that the country is also implementing such provisions in its domestic legislation. Peru’s soldiers are trained in the protection of civilians. The country is also dealing with the issue of missing persons and ensuring due reparations through a single victims’ registry. Also highlighting their recently adopted protocol on care of persons and family members rescued from terrorist groups, he added that Peru’s peacekeepers benefited from sound training which resulted in their unimpeachable conduct on the ground.
PATRICK LUNA (Brazil), associating himself with CELAC, noted the 150th anniversary of the Saint Petersburg Declaration and its importance which goes beyond the prescription of certain types of weapons. Together with the Geneva Convention of 1864, he pointed out that these instruments are at the origin of a basic idea that is still valid today: the “necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity”. Expressing concern about the growing lack of respect for international humanitarian law, he said it is not only a matter of developing new rules governing war, but of finding ways to ensure that they are respected. At the thirty-second International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, consensus was reached on a number of policy measures to address current and upcoming challenges in the field of humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, “we fell short of concrete steps to address the gaps in the implementation of international humanitarian law”, he said, calling on all States to engage constructively in the intergovernmental process aimed at strengthening compliance.
ELSADIG ALI SAYED AHMED (Sudan) noted that contemporary armed conflict poses challenges to the application of international humanitarian law, from the classification of armed conflict to the use of modern technology. The increased complexity also rests on whether or not classification into international and non-international armed conflict is sufficient to address the range of current armed conflict. “We believe this classification is sufficient, while recognizing the existence of scenarios that can be classified as non-international conflicts,” he said, adding that extraterritorial military operations have led to new concerns about the rights and duties of the occupying State. He condemned the attempt by some to reinterpret the rules of international humanitarian law in order to avoid their unconditional implementation.
ANET PINO RIVERO (Cuba), associating herself with CELAC, said that her country honours its commitment as a State party to the Geneva Conventions and the two Additional Protocols of 1977. Cuba has on its books a law on military crimes which regulates actions and omissions that may constitute crimes under international humanitarian law. In addition, it has a centre for the study of international humanitarian law, which was established based on collaboration between the Cuban Red Cross Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); it aims to disseminate the ideals of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. This centre’s mandate includes the training of senior members of the armed forces, senior health staff, teachers and media personnel. It has provided basic training in international humanitarian law for many people, she said.
GEORGES EL JALLAD (Lebanon) said that international humanitarian law has become a basic component of curricula in Lebanon’s military academies. Young people in Lebanon are well engaged in disseminating the rules of international humanitarian law through the Lebanese Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations. Over the years, Lebanon has been a victim of many breaches of international humanitarian law. More than 12 years have passed since the 2006 Israeli aggression on Lebanon and so far there have been no accountability and no remedies for crimes committed against his country. The Inquiry Committee established by the Human Rights Council concluded that Israeli forces destroyed large parts of Lebanese civilian infrastructure and that the attacks caused significant and disproportionate damage. Still today, flagrant breaches of international humanitarian law continue to be committed against the Palestinian people daily. “There is no doubt that accountability remains the most important element to ensure respect for these laws,” he added.
VINCENT OLIVIER RITTENER (Switzerland) said that as depositary of the Geneva Conventions and the three Additional Protocols, his country attaches particular importance to the universal ratification of these instruments. Although the Geneva Conventions were universally ratified, the same cannot be said of the Additional Protocols. Today, 174 States are party to the First Additional Protocol, 168 to the Second Additional Protocol and 74 to the Third Additional Protocol. In addition, he also urged all State parties to the First Additional Protocol that have not yet done so to recognize the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission established under article 90 of the Protocol. The Commission is ready to conduct investigations into allegations of violations and to facilitate the restoration of an attitude of respect for international humanitarian law. At the request of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commission has set up and deployed an independent forensic investigation team to look into an accident that occurred near Pryshyb in eastern Ukraine on 23 April 2017, when an OSCE vehicle was struck by an explosion that resulted in the death of a paramedic.
AHUVA SEIFERAS (Israel), stressing that, throughout the last 70 years, her country has always been committed to the principle of the law of armed conflict, said that many non-State adversaries do not consider themselves bound by that law. Those actors systematically abuse the rules, while relying upon States’ adherence to international law and exploiting the fact that such States will take measures to protect civilian populations. Israel continues to ensure that all aspects of its military operations comply with the laws, s/he said, adding that Israeli forces are trained to uphold procedures that abide by international law and ensure that the delicate balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations is maintained to the greatest extent possible.