ENSURING RESPECT FOR INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN
--TOWARDS APPROPRIATE MECHANISMS
Organisers : Swiss Government (DFAE) and German
There are unfortunately many shortcomings in the implementation
of international humanitarian law. The workshop was held to discuss
potential mechanisms for ensuring greater respect for and more effective
implementation of the law. The participants reviewed all the possible
mechanisms in this respect, focusing on two specific issues: the
creation of a mechanism for the exchange of information (periodic
reports) on international humanitarian law and a re-examination
of the role of Protecting Power. The exchange of views was both
constructive and useful but too brief. The subject matter warranted
more extensive debate.
1. Mechanisms for the implementation of international
humanitarian law, in particular that of the Protecting Power.
By way of introduction, a summary presentation was
given on the national and international mechanisms for the implementation
of humanitarian law. The participants considered that these mechanisms
should be examined in the light of Article 1 common to the Geneva
Conventions, which sets out the obligation for the States Parties
to respect and ensure respect for these instruments in all circumstances.
They should therefore be given close consideration and an analysis
should be made of other possible mechanisms. Any such analysis should
take account of the different types of armed conflict, most of today's
conflicts being either non-international or of a mixed character.
Indeed, the mechanisms under consideration must be adapted to the
different types of conflict. The comparative importance of prevention
and repression were mentioned.
Some speakers considered that the two approaches were
complementary while others thought that preventive measures were
of primary importance. Some speakers considered it vital to move
beyond a culture of impunity and stressed that it was essential
to give an appropriate place to mechanisms designed to suppress
violations of humanitarian law.
The central role of the ICRC in monitoring the application
of humanitarian law was also highlighted and the suggestion was
made that the Committee should play an exclusive role in this regard.
Several speakers referred to the institution of national
committees for the implementation of humanitarian law and emphasized
their importance. They also stressed the need for close cooperation
between such committees, especially at regional level. It was proposed
that the International Fact-Finding Commission established under
Article 90 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions be
Given the nature of contemporary armed conflicts,
it would be useful to explore the possibility of making greater
use of that body. For such conflicts, could not the consent of the
parties be given on a case-by-case basis? The exchange of views
on mechanisms for the implementation of international humanitarian
law showed that there should be a follow-up to the workshop in the
form of a critical reflection on the existence and value of the
The institution of Protecting Powers had proved its
worth during the First and Second World Wars. Since then it had
been little used. Several explanations were suggested: the nature
of most of the conflicts since the end of the Second World War and
the impossibility of transposing the concept of Protecting Powers
to non-international armed conflicts; the refusal of the parties
concerned to admit the existence of an armed conflict or to enter
into official relations with an adversary whose existence they contested,
or ignorance about the institution. This did not mean that the latter,
as such, had no future. The subject would have to be studied in
order to become more familiar with it and to make it better known.
It was emphasized that the institution of Protecting Powers was
the only mechanism that could ensure continuous monitoring of the
application of international humanitarian law during an armed conflict.
One participant underscored the importance of adopting an imaginative
approach towards adapting the institution to internal conflicts.
The wish was expressed that a mechanism be found that
could, in internal conflicts, perform the tasks entrusted to the
Protecting Power in international conflicts.
2. A mechanism for exchange of information (periodic
The Geneva Conventions assume, and in many instances
require, that States Parties take legislative and administrative
measures to guarantee and facilitate the proper implementation of
humanitarian law. The penal and disciplinary provisions aimed at
the repression of violations and the legal measures designed to
protect the emblem are but examples.
Given the importance of this legal instrument it
is desirable and even necessary to ensure that it meets all requirements.
The system of periodic reports evaluated by committees of experts
is a method well-established in international law to promote the
proper implementation of international treaties.
The participants in the workshop welcomed the idea
of instituting a mechanism for exchanging information on humanitarian
law. Such a system had the advantage of promoting transparency and
fostering dialogue that could ultimately lead to reform in States'
systems for implementing humanitarian law. It could also constitute
an independent mechanism for heightening awareness and for monitoring.
In order to avoid any errors, the procedures ought to be laid down
in the light of both positive and negative experience in the United
The participants discussed several aspects of a possible
mechanism, for example in regard to who would draft the reports
and for whom, what the reports would cover, the nature of the information
to be provided, the aims pursued, the composition of the "club"
of States participating in a voluntary system set up as a pilot
project, the way in which such a system should be set up and certain
The speakers thought that the exchange of information
and experiences should be carried out in a spirit of cooperation
rather than in an climate of repression or denunciation of violations.
The view was expressed that, at least at first, the national committees
for the implementation of humanitarian law could make a valuable
contribution to creating such a system.
The speakers confirmed the importance of pursuing
the work on such a project.
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