The International Committee of the Red Cross and Its Contribution to the Development of International Humanitarian Law in Specialized Instruments

By Dormann, Knut; Maresca, Louis | Chicago Journal of International Law, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Its Contribution to the Development of International Humanitarian Law in Specialized Instruments


Dormann, Knut, Maresca, Louis, Chicago Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

As a result of its unique status as promoter and guardian of international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross ("ICRC") has been closely involved in the negotiations of humanitarian law treaties. According to the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, one of the ICRC's roles is to help develop international humanitarian law.1 The article by Francois Bugnion also published in this issue of the Journal explains in great detail the ICRC's mandate and the legal basis for its activities in that field as well as its contribution to core treaties of that branch of law.2 This essay will focus on the ICRC's contribution to more recent negotiations leading to specialized instruments in some very important fields: limitations and restrictions on the use of certain weapons and mechanisms to repress serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The main instruments of international humanitarian law are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949(3) and their two Additional Protocols of 1977.4 These treaties cover the core aspects of international humanitarian law: protections for certain persons and property that are, or may be, affected by international or non-international armed conflict, as well as general limitations on the methods and means of warfare (the law on the conduct of hostilities). International humanitarian law is, however, not limited to these instruments. Other treaties deal with more specific issues, such as restricting the use of certain weapons. The following sections discuss the ICRC's involvement in the development and negotiations of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines and of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court as case studies.5 They provide a good indication of the varied and dynamic functions played by the ICRC in the development of international humanitarian law.

II. THE CONVENTION ON THE PROHIBITION OF ANTI-PERSONNEL MINES

The adoption of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines6 in 1997 was the result of an unprecedented effort by governments, international and non-governmental organizations, public personalities, and private individuals to end the suffering caused by these weapons. Rarely has such a broad coalition directed the development of international humanitarian law. Along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines ("ICBL"), the ICRC played a lead role in the Convention's evolution.7 The ICRC's efforts in this area encompassed its traditional role as a source of expertise on the law and on the realities in war-affected areas, and also presented new approaches to inform and motivate political authorities and the public at large.8

A. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONVENTION

Anti-personnel landmines have been widely used in modern armed conflicts, and their humanitarian impact has been severe and often long-lasting. While they may have a military value when laid in preparation for or during hostilities, these weapons remain active long after the fighting ends. As a result, they have killed and injured large numbers of civilians. The presence of these weapons has also contaminated farmland, impeded reconstruction and the return of refugees and displaced persons, and hindered humanitarian work.

The ICRC's efforts to limit the effects of landmines began as early as 1956.9 Yet the first international rules on these weapons did not become binding until the entry into force of the Convention on Conventional Weapons ("CCW") in 1983.10 In addition to prohibiting the use of fragments not detectable by X-ray (Protocol I) and limiting the use of incendiary weapons (Protocol III), the CCW also established restrictions on the use of landmines, booby-traps, and other similar devices (Protocol II) in order to minimize their post-conflict consequences.

Despite the rules of Protocol II, civilian casualties rose dramatically in the late 1980s. …

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