Members Conclude Debate on Additional Protocols to 1949 Geneva Convention
Protection of diplomatic and consular representatives — as well as the security and inviolability of diplomatic and consular missions, their archives, documents and communications — is one of the pillars upon which international relations rests, speakers stressed while voicing concern at rising attacks on missions and personnel around the world, as the Sixth Committee (Legal) took up the matter today.
Before the Sixth Committee was the Secretary-General’s report, titled Consideration of effective measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives (document A/73/189).
“It is a matter of great concern to us that diplomatic agents and premises keep falling victim to attacks in the receiving State despite the general recognition of the special duty to protect them,” stressed the representative of Finland, also speaking for Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Recalling that because of the Nordic countries’ initiative, the subject had been placed on the General Assembly’s agenda, she underscored that such protection was one of the cornerstones of international relations.
Speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), El Salvador’s delegate highlighted the new challenges that have emerged since the subject had first been introduced as a Sixth Committee agenda item in 1980. He emphasized his concern about the negative impact that State surveillance and interception of communications may have on the inviolability of diplomatic and consular archives, documents and communications.
Gambia’s representative, speaking for the African Group, said that diplomatic officials and consular agents face significant hazards while representing their States in an international setting. Recent episodes of violence and acts of intimidation show that diplomats are always at risk. To better protect them, receiving States should ensure that envoys and their families are duly protected and that local authorities can give them free, fair and equal treatment, regardless of their nationality, race or religion.
The Sixth Committee also continued discussion on the Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, with speakers stressing that those texts remain a crucial tool to protect civilians. (For background see Press Release GA/L/3576.)
The representative of Monaco said that such instruments were much needed at a time where the very nature of conflict has changed because of terrorists and non-State actors. As a result, some principles seem to have been forgotten in current conflicts, including the key distinction made between combatants and civilians, as enshrined in Protocol I.
Bangladesh’s delegate, calling attention to current examples of violations of international humanitarian law, spotlighted the atrocity crimes suffered by the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and their displacement to his country. There was worldwide concern over international human rights law violations that were being committed under the pretext of a counter-terrorism offensive. Citing the words of the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he also cautioned that the crisis has become highly politicized.
The representative of the ICRC said that his organization had been promoting the fortieth anniversary of the Additional Protocols of 1977 in various ways, including publishing a policy paper on the significance of the Additional Protocols, as well as highlighting their relevance at regional and national events. More so, the Red Cross has been reaching out to States not parties to the Protocols and urging them to adhere to them.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation, Austria, Belarus, Republic of Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Cuba, Turkey, Israel, Eritrea, Bahrain, as well as the European Union.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were Syria, Israel and Myanmar.
The Sixth Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 19 October, to conclude its discussion of the consideration of effective measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives and undertake discussion on the Programme of Assistance.
Statements on Status of Protocols Additional to Geneva Conventions
MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation), underscoring that compliance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols is an important component of contemporary humanitarian law, expressed appreciation for the role of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in providing protection to victims. Noting his country’s voluntary contribution this year of CHF 1 million to ICRC, he also lauded the Red Cross’s role in disseminating information about international humanitarian law. In regard to their updated commentaries to the Geneva Conventions, he recalled that the primary responsibility for interpreting the Conventions lies with the State. The Russian Federation is currently studying the updated commentaries and, on the basis of its analysis, will conclude how applicable they are. Recalling the seventh Moscow International Security Conference held earlier this year, he spotlighted the continuing relevance of the Saint Petersburg Declaration and called on countries not to stoke armed conflict.
LAURA KATHOLNIG (Austria), associating herself with the European Union, said that she was concerned by recurrent reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law in conflict situations around the world. Unfortunately, upholding international humanitarian law and protecting human dignity in situations of armed conflict remain major challenges. The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols are the most important rules to limit the barbarity of war. Her country continues to strongly support the process aimed at strengthening compliance with international law, in pursuance of the pledge made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Switzerland at the thirty-first International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2011. Accountability and the fight against impunity for violations are essential elements in the humanitarian law system and Austria has been a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court since its creation, she said.
RUSLAN VARANKOV (Belarus), noting that his country is a State party to the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols, said that it is now focused on establishing national legislation and improving awareness of international humanitarian law. The Government is planning to implement a variety of teaching activities for school students, college students, and young academics in addition to holding public academic lectures and a joint methodological seminar with the ICRC. At the regional level, Belarus is developing an initiative for a platform that enables cooperation between national and international humanitarian law implementation authorities. Congratulating the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission on its first practical deployment, he stressed that as with any international humanitarian law compliance mechanism, it is vital to ensure consensus-based decisions and the key role of States.
ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco) highlighted the Secretary-General’s report which emphasized that there is no better protection for civilians than the Geneva Conventions. She also noted that her country acceded to that treaty, along with the three Additional Protocols. Ratification is a first step towards delivering the benefits of international humanitarian law for civilians who need it, especially at a time where the nature of conflict has changed due to the actions of terrorists and non-State actors. Some principles seem to have been forgotten in current conflicts. Protocol I underscored the key distinction to be made between combatants and civilians; only military targets should be attacked. Article 90 of Protocol I describes the International Fact-Finding Mission used to monitor the practice of States in conflicts, she said, noting this is comparable to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism investigating the most serious crimes in Syria.
HYE MI KIM (Republic of Korea) said that the challenges that international humanitarian law faces today are becoming increasingly complex due to the rapid developments in science and technology coupled with the evolving form of armed conflict. The Korean National Committee for International Humanitarian Law, established more than fifteen years ago, has played a key role in monitoring and coordinating the implementation of international humanitarian law at the domestic level. It has focused attention on preventing, containing, limiting and settling conflicts to ease the plight of innocent civilians, including women and children. She also commended the work of the ICRC in facilitating and offering protection to victims of armed conflict.
JULIAN SIMCOCK (United States) said that while his country is a party to Additional Protocol III, it is not a party to the 1977 Additional Protocols. The United States has, under successive Administrations, urged the Senate to give its advice and consent to the ratification of Additional Protocol II. This treaty is pending before the Senate for its advice and consent. Extensive inter-agency interviews have found United States military practice to be consistent with the Protocol’s provisions. Although his Government continues to have significant concerns with many aspects of Additional Protocol I, article 75 of that Protocol sets forth fundamental guarantees for persons in the hands of opposing forces in an international armed conflict. He underscored that the United States has chosen out of a sense of legal obligation to treat the principles set forth in article 75 as applicable to any individual it detains in an international armed conflict and expects other nations to adhere to that principle as well.
FAIYAZ MURSHID KAZI (Bangladesh), noting his country is a State party to the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols, said he remains concerned over serious violations of international humanitarian law by both State and non-State actors. Joining others in condemning such actions and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, he also said that perpetrators should be held to account for alleged violations. In the aftermath of the atrocity crimes suffered by the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and their displacement to Bangladesh, the international community has expressed its concern over international human rights law violations committed under the pretext of a counter-terrorism offensive. The ICRC stepped up its efforts to advocate for protection for the remaining Rohingya in Rakhine State, as well as those who will return. The ICRC president recently said that due to religious, security and economic divides, the Rohingya crisis has become one of the most visible and politicized situations. The international community needs to move out of political deadlock to find long term political solutions.
CARLA ESPERANZA RIVERA SÁNCHEZ (El Salvador), associating herself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that compliance with the Geneva Conventions, the Additional Protocols and all norms of international law is essential to ensure protection to all individuals who are not participating or have ceased to participate in armed conflict. Conflict in her country came to an end twenty-six years ago. Nonetheless, the Government continues to work in line with the constitutional framework for the full implementation and dissemination of international humanitarian law instruments. El Salvador’s criminal justice system punishes violations of international law or “customary war law”, including anything that causes psychological or physical damage to civilians in occupied territories, the killing of hostages and the destruction of infrastructure. El Salvador also established an inter-agency committee on international humanitarian law in 1997 to serve as an advisory body to the Government.
SUSAN JANE DICKSON (United Kingdom), associating herself with the European Union, noted her Government has enacted measures under the aegis of international humanitarian law including the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act and the Safe Schools Declaration, joining a community of 81 States in that latter capacity. The United Kingdom has also played a leading role in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, providing capacity-building practitioners in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and continues to work in collaboration with the ICRC in their work tackling pressing humanitarian challenges in the world’s most dangerous environments.
MOHAMMED ATLASSI (Morocco), noting proposals to strengthen and consolidate the existing rule book of international humanitarian law, expressed support for the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols. His country created a national commission to harmonize domestic legislation with relevant international agreements, he said, adding that this commission also operated as a national mechanism to strengthen capacities among all those active in the field. Turning to regional cooperation, he highlighted the establishment of a mechanism to strengthen cooperation in disseminating information and exchanging opinions between his national authorities and the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in Italy. Memorandums of understanding also existed with kindred Arab countries, he said, adding that Morocco’s legal arsenal contained laws that criminalized genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM ABDELKHALEK ELSHENAWY (Egypt) reaffirmed the continuing value of established humanitarian rules relating to the protection of victims in armed conflicts and urged States to comply fully with the provisions of international humanitarian law. He expressed concern over the situation in the occupied State of Palestine, adding that the widely condemned settlement regime is largely unchallenged by the international community. “Transfer of populations into the occupied land and forcible transfer of people under occupation are violations to the Geneva Convention and other relevant international instruments,” he asserted. Verbal condemnations of the settlement regime must be translated into action to ensure the independence and sovereignty of the State of Palestine. International humanitarian law and human rights law are essential to finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
SATTAR AHMADI (Iran) said his country has made constant efforts to promote, publicize and disseminate knowledge of international humanitarian law norms including among its armed forces. The creation of the Iranian National Committee on Humanitarian Law is a turning point for the country in that regard. On the matter of regional cooperation, he said that the upcoming eighth South Asian Conference on International Humanitarian Law, to be held in Tehran in November, will aim to provide States and stakeholders in the region with a platform to discuss important matters relating to international law. He also noted that the most serious violations in the region occur in the Palestinian occupied territory. The occupying power continues to refuse to observe its various obligations under the Geneva Convention and relevant Security Council resolutions. “The result of these breaches has been severe suffering of civilians,” he added. Turning to Yemen, he expressed deep concern that the foreign military intervention there has caused immense human suffering.
CHRISTOPHER B. HARLAND, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that on the fortieth anniversary of the Additional Protocols of 1977, his organization took several steps to promote their universalization and implementation. Its initiatives included the publication of a policy paper on the practical relevance of the Additional Protocols, raising the question of access in its dialogue with States and highlighting the relevance of these instruments at national and regional events. The ICRC also wrote to States not yet party to the Additional Protocols to encourage them to adhere to them. It also updated the Commentaries on the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 with the publication of the New Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention in May 2017, along with promotional events in a variety of regions.
He also noted that in 2015 the thirty-second International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent recommended the continuation of a State-driven intergovernmental process to enhance the capacity of international humanitarian law. The Red Cross and Switzerland continue to co-facilitate this process and have organized four Meetings of States to date, as well as numerous preparatory meetings, aimed at enabling countries to exchange views on the substantive elements of Resolution 2, and on the best ways to fulfil the mandate given by the International Conference. Further meetings are planned for the remainder of 2018 and in 2019, with a view to submitting an outcome document to the thirty-third International Conference to be held in late 2019. The ICRC has also continued to develop specialized tools — including databases, reports and technical documents — which have been made available to States and the general public. The online Customary International Humanitarian Law Database is updated regularly, along with the public database on the National Implementation of International Humanitarian Law.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Syria, condemned the statement by the representative of Canada, who politicized this humanitarian and legal agenda item through exploiting the situation in Syria in a selective and non-neutral manner. The colleague, in an indirect but manipulative manner, has presented biased allegations by parties that have encouraged and sustained terrorism and have facilitated the emergence of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq. Since the Sixth Committee is addressing an item concerned with the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, she should reread these provisions calmly and carefully to understand the position of these important international legal instruments. Calling the situation in his country an armed conflict was a contentious classification. Facts have proven that Syria is facing groups that have been classified by the Security Council as terrorist organizations.
Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Israel said that the Lebanese delegation is trying to politicize the current forum with a misrepresentation of events that happened over a decade ago. In addition, Iranian-backed actors are currently abusing Israeli soil. Hizbullah in Lebanon, like Hamas in Gaza, uses civilians as human shields, she said, noting it is a major violation of humanitarian law. Also underscoring that she took issue with the approach adopted by the Iranian and Egyptian delegates today, she voiced her rejection of the false accusations aimed at Israel.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Myanmar said that Bangladesh’s delegate failed to recognize the root causes of the crisis in the Rakhine State, adding that the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its Additional Protocols are not applicable to that issue.
Statements on Diplomatic Protection
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), speaking for CELAC, said that the protection of diplomatic and consular representatives; as well as the security and inviolability of diplomatic and consular missions, their archives, documents and communications; is one of the pillars upon which international relations rests. As stated in the preamble of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the recognition of diplomatic status relates to the principles of the United Nations Charter concerning the sovereign equality of States, the maintenance of peace and security and the promotion of friendly relations among nations. It also recognizes that privileges and immunities ensure the effective performance of the functions undertaken by representatives of States.
Since this agenda item was introduced to the Sixth Committee’s agenda in 1980, new challenges have emerged, he continued. In this regard, he emphasized his concern about the negative impact that State surveillance and interception of communications, including extraterritorially, may have on the inviolability of diplomatic and consular archives, documents and communications. There was a transparent dialogue on the subject at the seventy-first session of the General Assembly. It is essential that all rules and principles of international law pertaining to the issue are observed, especially the 1961 and 1963 Vienna Conventions and relevant United Nations resolutions. It is equally important that national legislation be in strict conformity with international law and does not undermine the respect and protection due to such officials and missions.
AMADOU JAITEH (Gambia), speaking for the African Group, said that he remained deeply concerned that diplomatic and consular agents still face significant hazards and risks when discharging their duties as diplomats while representing their States in a bilateral or multilateral posting. He called on Member States to adhere to international best practices in line with international law to protect diplomats as stipulated in the 1961 and 1963 Geneva Conventions on Diplomatic Relations and Consular Relations. These Conventions comprise a special duty of protection and a duty to abstain from exercising any enforcement right, in particular an arrest or detention. The principle of inviolability has to be respected by the authorities of the receiving State.
Recent episodes of violence and acts of intimidation demonstrate that diplomats experience all sorts of threats and are always at risk, he said. The international community in general, and each Member State, must continue to work to ensure that diplomats continue to carry out their functions without fear for their own security and that of their families. Receiving States should ensure that diplomatic envoys and their families are duly protected and are able to work in the safe knowledge that local authorities can offer free, fair and equal treatment, irrespective of nationality, race or religion.
ERIC CHABOUREAU, European Union, strongly condemned attacks against diplomatic and consular missions, especially those against German premises and equipment in Afghanistan and the Austrian embassy in Libya. Any kind of violent act against diplomatic and consular missions or their staffs can never be justified, wherever they occur. Adding that the physical safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives, which is a prerequisite for their smooth functioning, is a common interest and must be secured, he urged all States concerned to bring perpetrators to justice.
Receiving States are also under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect diplomatic missions and consular premises under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, he continued. Particular attention must be paid to threats posed by terrorists and other armed groups, as attested by events that occurred in Somalia and Afghanistan. As well, diplomatic and consular staffs are under a duty to comply with their respective obligations under the Vienna Conventions, especially their obligation to respect laws and regulations of the receiving State.
NIINA NYRHINEN (Finland), also speaking for Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, noted that this topic was originally included in the agenda of the General Assembly on the initiative of the Nordic countries. “It is a matter of great concern to us that diplomatic agents and premises keep falling victim to attacks in the receiving State despite the general recognition of the special duty to protect them,” she said. Noting with satisfaction the reported increase in the number of States parties to the relevant international legal instruments, she stressed that an obligation to protect foreign emissaries has existed in the legal systems of all cultures.
Diplomatic protection is one of the cornerstones of international relations, protecting the channels of communication between States, she continued. In a situation where the receiving State fails to offer the required protection in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Conventions, the injured State is entitled to claim prompt compensation for loss or injury suffered. Close cooperation and information sharing on security matters not only at the international level but also at the national level between the missions and the competent local authorities is critical. Thus, violations of the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives can be prevented.
PATRICK LUNA (Brazil), associating himself with CELAC, said that diplomatic and consular immunities lie at the core of international law; they protect the channels through which States can dialogue, cooperate and peacefully settle disputes. A significant number of serious violations of such immunities, which have been reported by the press worldwide, have not found their way into the compilation prepared by the Secretary-General. Such underreporting points to a need to update the current reporting mandate, which was established in 1980. The Vienna Conventions affirm that archives, documents and official correspondence shall be inviolable at all times. Given the significant improvements in information technology, diplomatic and consular communications, archives and documents must be protected both offline and online.
INDIRA GUARDIA GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), associating herself with CELAC, said that violations of diplomatic immunities not only have a negative impact on relations between States, but also constitute a flagrant violation of the Vienna Conventions. Condemning the many violent acts committed against diplomatic representatives, she expressed support for all relevant measures to prevent the recurrence of such acts and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators by corresponding States. Calling for the enforcement of all applicable norms as well as the Convention on Privileges and Immunities, she added that Cuban law treats as a crime any attack on the person or dignity of diplomatic officials. The Government also provided a three-digit hotline for diplomatic representatives to report any issues.
DIGDEM BUNER (Turkey), associating herself with the European Union, said that diplomatic missions and representatives play a key role in the development of friendly international relations. Expressing strong support for the Vienna Conventions, she underscored the special duty of the host country to protect diplomatic and consular officials. Unfortunately, Turkish diplomatic representatives have been the target of a number of attacks and violations. Some Member States have allowed terrorist organizations to organize protests in front of Turkish missions, thereby endangering the country’s representatives, she noted, also calling for cooperation between States in ensuring diplomatic immunity.
AHUVA SEIFERAS (Israel) said that the inviolability of missions and the duty to protect them is one of the cornerstones of international relations. Terrorism is an ever-present threat, and Israeli missions and diplomats have long since been and continue to be targets of such attacks around the world. The international nature of these hateful crimes requires a resolute response, and she urged Member States to take necessary action with regards to States that undertake terrorist attacks against consular representatives and missions. She also urged the international community to cooperate to ensure a safe international environment that allows diplomats to accomplish their official tasks in an environment safe from any outside threat.
Mr. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation) expressed his concern with the degradation in the past two years by some States regarding universally recognized norms. The acts of the United States authorities illustrate this. The United States, during the period from December 2016 to April 2018 took a range of provocative hostile measures against a number of Russian official missions, property, staff and family members. These measures sought to expel Russian official mission staff and families from the premises that they occupy on lawful grounds. On 29 December 2016, the United States State Department notified the Russian Federation Embassy on the withdrawal of consent to use for official business part of the premises in Washington D.C. and part of the Mission in New York. The problem has been under consideration by the Committee on Relations with the Host Country for two years. These actions are a gross violation of diplomatic and consular law and are incompatible with the United Nations Charter and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and United States Consular Convention of 1964. If this course of action is normal, then diplomatic missions will not be able to operate. A bad example is contagious, he said.
Ms. RIVERA SÁNCHEZ (El Salvador), associating herself with CELAC, stressed the obligation of all States to protect the premises of all diplomatic and consular missions. Calling on all countries to ensure that their domestic legislation undergirds that obligation, she noted that the criminal laws in her country punish such crimes heavily. In addition, law enforcement is trained to meet all diplomatic protection requirements. El Salvador has strengthened its security protocols and, so far, there have been no serious offences to diplomatic and consular immunities. The country will continue to ensure that, to enable the effective performance of diplomatic and consular duties.
JULIAN SIMCOCK (United States), stressing the importance of protecting diplomats from harmful acts by non-State actors, said recent years have seen increasing attacks on such officials. As the nature and circumstances of attacks on diplomatic and consular personnel have evolved, so too must preventive and protective measures. Any steps that are necessary to protect a diplomatic or consular mission will depend on potential threats to it. The United States seeks to ensure that all its diplomats benefit from enhanced security training and good practices to help mitigate the risks its personnel face every day. Moreover, his country relies on collaboration with its partners in the receiving State to facilitate protection and prevention. Its diplomatic and consular missions overseas often work with local law enforcement and other authorities to prepare for eventualities by conducting drills and sharing information when appropriate. With regard to the comments made by the representative of the Russian Federation, he referred delegations to the detailed submission he already made on this topic and that has been circulated to all Member States.
STEPHANIE AFEUENKI GEBREMEDHIN (Eritrea), stressing that the privileges and immunities provided by the Vienna Conventions are not to benefit individuals but to ensure proper function of relations among States, added that in the rapidly advancing digital age, secure and uninterrupted communication is critical in the performance of diplomatic and consular functions. It is imperative that diplomatic immunity addresses these new challenges, she said, adding that the collection of information from diplomatic personnel and missions is not only a violation of article 27 of the Vienna Convention of 1961 but also goes against the spirit of the United Nations.
ALI AHMED AL-KHALIFA (Bahrain) said that the debate on the Secretary-General’s report strengthens international understanding of violations that representatives of missions have to face. He emphasized the report’s call on the international community to strengthen efforts to prevent any violations of the rights of diplomatic representatives. Further, not only are the sections describing serious violations and attacks against embassies and missions of great concern, but so are attacks not mentioned in the report. He condemned all violent acts aimed at representatives as well as attacks targeting United Nations offices. The legal provisions providing diplomatic protections are the very pillar on which good relations rest. His Government attaches special priority to the protection of diplomats and consular officials under international law, he said.
Mr. KAZI (Bangladesh) said he believed in ensuring the safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives and that such protection is crucial for the proper conduct of international relations at the international level. He expressed alarm regarding reports of acts of violence against consular and diplomatic representatives. Bangladesh takes any such report with the utmost seriousness and ensures there is no scope for impunity for the perpetrators. With regard to reporting mechanisms, his Government has shared an account of measures taken by its authorities to ensure the safety of diplomatic and consular representatives.