C6: Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions

Last updated: 10/22/2012 // On behalf of the Nordic Countries, Swedens Legal Advisor Ms. Pernilla Nilsson held this statement on the Status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts.

Mr Chairperson,

I have the honour to address the Sixth Committee on behalf of the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

It is now 35 years ago since the 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of the Victims of War were adopted. It became evident during the wars and violent conflicts that took place after the Second World War that the protection offered by the Geneva Conventions of 1949 was not sufficient. It was a major achievement when the Additional Protocols were adopted, putting stronger protection into place. Since then, more than 120 States have acceded to the Additional Protocols. Many of the rules in the Additional Protocols have now been confirmed as being part of international customary humanitarian law and are thus universally applicable to all States and parties to conflicts.

Despite this progress, increased protection for victims of armed conflict is needed. In this regard we welcome the decision of the 31st International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference inviting the ICRC to pursue further research, consultation and discussion in cooperation with States and other relevant actors to identify and propose options to ensure that international humanitarian law remains practical and relevant in providing legal protection to all persons deprived of their liberty in relation to armed conflict.

This work should be carried out taking into account existing relevant international legal regimes and other international processes on similar issues;

Increased compliance with and respect for international humanitarian law is vital in order to achieve better and improved protection for victims during armed conflict. This is why we very much welcome the initiative by Switzerland to explore and identify concrete ways and means to strengthen the application of international humanitarian law and reinforce dialogue on issues related thereto among States and other interested actors, in cooperation with the ICRC. We also support the ICRC’s work on enhancing and ensuring the effectiveness of mechanisms of compliance.  The importance of improving compliance was one of the most important decisions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent conference. All States as well as all National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies agreed that we must increase our efforts to improve compliance.

We would like to underline the role and importance of the International Committee of the Red Cross. We express our deep appreciation for the work carried out by the ICRC and for its ongoing efforts towards dissemination of international humanitarian law, training given on the subject and protection of persons in relation to armed conflict.

We would also like to recall that States have a responsibility to protect people within their own borders from massive violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. If a State is not able or willing to do so, the international community, including the UN, has a responsibility to act with a view to providing such protection.

Allow me to recall that world leaders made an historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations 2005 World Summit,
recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes under international law. Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is now a well-established international norm and an important vehicle for preventive action and responsibility of both national governments and the international community to protect the civilian population against atrocities.  One of the major challenges now is to operationalize this concept at all levels to make sure that we prevent atrocities. 

Mr. Chairman, the importance of strengthening compliance of international humanitarian law was also highlighted in the outcome document from the High-level meeting on the Rule of Law. This is an important message, which emphasizes that respecting international humanitarian law is an indispensable prerequisite for improving the situation of victims of armed conflict.

Increased respect for victims is also provided through genuine accountability and redress for war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, including genocide and crimes against humanity. There must be no impunity for such crimes. The International Criminal Court is of paramount importance for the quest for compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law in order to end impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is important to continue efforts to achieve universal adherence to the Rome Statute and vital that the contracting States support and cooperate with the Court so that it can fulfil its tasks in full. We also express our full support the ICTY, ICTR, SCSL and the special tribunal for Lebanon as important mechanisms to end impunity.

However, it must be underlined that the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute violations rests with national justice systems.  It is at the domestic level that solutions to the impunity gap must be found. Ultimately, functioning domestic justice institutions will help enable sustainable development and foster peace and security in countries emerging from conflict.

Let me conclude by recalling that all States parties to the Geneva Conventions have a duty to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Joint efforts to promote and improve compliance with the Geneva Conventions are still needed and must remain a priority.

Thank you.

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