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Common Article 1 to the Geneva Conventions and the obligation to prevent international humanitarian law violations

  • Knut Dörmann and Jose Serralvo
Abstract

Common Article 1 to the four Geneva Conventions lays down an obligation to respect and ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances. This paper focuses on the second part of this obligation, in particular on the responsibility of third States not involved in a given armed conflict to take action in order to safeguard compliance with the Geneva Conventions by the parties to the conflict. It concludes that third States have an international legal obligation not only to avoid encouraging international humanitarian law violations committed by others, but also to take measures to put an end to on-going violations and to actively prevent their occurrence.

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1 See the report presented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Strengthening Legal Protection for Victims of Armed Conflicts, ICRC, Geneva, October 2011, p. 4.

2 Even the most longstanding IHL obligation, which was at the heart of the early treaty IHL, i.e. the delivery of impartial healthcare in armed conflict, is affected by this lack of respect vis-à-vis existing rules. See ICRC, Healthcare in Danger: Making the Case, August 2011, available at: www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-4072.pdf.

3 Ibid. See also International Institute of Humanitarian Law, Strengthening Measures for the Respect and Implementation of International Humanitarian Law and Other Rules Protecting Human Dignity in Armed Conflict, 28th Round Table, Sanremo, 2–4 September 2004; ICRC Vice-President Beerli, Respecting IHL: Challenges and Responses, 36th Round Table, Sanremo, 5-7 September 2013, available at: www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/2013/round-table-san-remo-beerli-2013-icrc.pdf.

4 Condorelli, Luigi and de Chazournes, Laurence Boisson, “Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions Revisited: Protecting Collective Interests”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 82, No. 837, 2000, pp. 6786.

5 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. 2, Section B, p. 53.

6 Adam Roberts considers that if States have an obligation to ensure respect, then regional and global international organizations are also bound by this very same obligation, since they are themselves composed of States. See Roberts, Adam, “Implementation of the Laws of War in Late 20th Century Conflicts”, in Schmitt, Michael N. and Green, Leslie C. (eds), The Law of Armed Conflict: Into the Next Millennium, International Law Studies, Vol. 71, Naval War College, Newport, 1998, p. 365.

7 Condorelli, Luigi and de Chazournes, Laurence Boisson, “Quelques remarques à propos de l'obligation des États de ‘respecter et faire respecter’ le droit international humanitaire ‘en toutes circonstances’”, in Swinarski, Christophe (ed.), Studies and Essays on International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet, ICRC and Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Geneva, 1984, p. 18; Zych, Tomasz, “The Scope of the Obligation to Respect and to Ensure Respect for International Humanitarian Law”, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 27, 2009, p. 252; Focarelli, Carlo, “Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Soap Bubble?”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2010, p. 127.

8 For a more general overview of CA 1, including the obligation to respect, see e.g. L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 7.

9 Ibid., p. 19; Kalshoven, Frits, “The Undertaking to Respect and Ensure Respect in All Circumstances: From Tiny Seed to Ripening Fruit”, Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 2, 1999, pp. 710; Devillard, Alexandre, “L'obligation de faire respecter le droit international humanitaire: l'article 1 commun aux Conventions de Genève et à leur Premier Protocole Additionnel, fondement d'un droit international humanitaire de cooperation?”, Revue Québécoise de Droit International, Vol. 75, 2007, pp. 7779.

10 Note that, under the law of treaties, a material breach of a treaty by one of the parties allows the others to terminate the treaty or to suspend its operation in whole or in part. Article 60(5) of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties recognizes the exception to this rule, anticipated by the 1929 Geneva Conventions, by providing that this regime “do[es] not apply to provisions relating to the protection of the human person contained in treaties of a humanitarian character, in particular to provisions prohibiting any form of reprisals against persons protected by such treaties”.

11 Also known as the prohibition of negative reciprocity. See Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 1: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, reprint 2009 (ICRC Customary Law Study), pp. 498–499.

12 See Azzam, Fateh, “The Duty of Third States to Implement and Enforce International Humanitarian Law”, Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 66, 1997, p. 72 : “Article 1 … is not preambular or introductory, it is an active provision of the Conventions and Protocol and indeed, its placement at the very beginning of both is an indication of its imperative nature.” See also Jean Pictet (ed.), Commentary: IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1958, p. 15.

13 Solis, Gary D., The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, p. 84.

14 Yves Sandoz, Christophe Swinarski and Bruno Zimmermann (eds), Commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, 1987, para. 45.

15 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 32.

16 Ibid., Art. 31(2). See also Distefano, Giovanni, “La pratique subséquente des États parties à un traité”, Annuaire Français de Droit International, Vol. 40, 1994, p. 46 (emphasis in original):

Si le recours aux travaux préparatoires souligne le souci de connaître cette volonté dans la phase de gestation du traité, recourir à l'examen de l'application et de l'exécution de ce dernier souligne le besoin d’établir ladite volonté sur le terrain. Encore, les travaux préparatoires ne nous éclairent-ils qu'au regard des intentions embryonnaires des parties à un traité, alors que l'analyse de la pratique subséquente des États contractants constitue assurément une interprétation authentique et pratique de leur volonté commune véhiculée par l'instrument conventionnel.

17 Bugnion, François, Le Comité International de la Croix Rouge et la protection des victimes de la guerre, ICRC, Geneva, 2000, pp. 10801081.

18 F. Kalshoven, above note 9, pp. 3–61.

19 Ibid., p. 14.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., pp. 13–16.

22 ICRC, Draft Revised or New Conventions for the Protection of War Victims, Geneva, May 1948, pp. 4, 34, 51 and 222.

23 Ibid., pp. 1–2.

24 Ibid., p. 2.

25 Ibid., p. 5, (emphasis added).

26 F. Kalshoven, above note 9, p. 14.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid., p. 16.

29 Paragraphs 3 and 4 of draft Article 2 stated the following:

Should one of the Powers in conflict not be party to the present Convention, the Powers who are party thereto shall, nevertheless, be bound by it in their mutual relations.

In all cases of armed conflict which are not of an international character, especially cases of civil war, colonial conflicts, or wars of religion, which may occur in the territory of one or more of the High Contracting Parties, the implementing of the principles of the present Convention shall be obligatory on each of the adversaries. The application of the Convention in these circumstances shall in nowise depend on the legal status of the parties to the conflict and shall have no effect on that status.

30 Eric David, Principes de Droit des Conflits Armés, Bruylant, Brussels, 2008, para. 3.13: “une application universelle ne se limite évidemment pas à une application nationale”.

31 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, above note 5, p. 53.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 It is impossible to know in retrospect what the delegates had in mind at the time. The fact is that none of them contradicted the ICRC statement. In this sense, it might be interesting to remember that most scholars consider that silence can be used as supporting evidence for acquiescence. See 13 MacGibbon, I. C., “The Scope of Acquiescence in International Law”, British Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 31, No. 143, 1954, in particular pp. 146147. See also G. Distefano, above note 16, p. 48: “La doctrine, par ailleurs, tend à attribuer au silence valeur probatoire aux fins interprétatives par voie de comportement ultérieur des parties”.

36 E. David, above note 30, para. 3.13.

37 J. Pictet, above note 12, p. 16. Note that the original French version of Pictet's Commentaries is clearer when it comes to delineating the dichotomy between the entitlement to act (pouvoir) and the obligation to do so (devoir): “Ainsi encore, si une Puissance manque à ses obligations, les autres Parties contractantes … peuvent-elles – et doivent-elles – chercher à la ramener au respect de la Convention” (ibi d., p. 21). The original French version of Pictet's Commentaries is even stronger in the case of the Third Geneva Convention, since it only refers to a duty: “Ceci vaut pour le respect que chaque État doit lui-même à la Convention mais, en outre, si une autre Puissance manque à ses obligations, chaque Partie contractante (neutre, alliée ou ennemie) doit chercher à la ramener au respect de la Convention”. Jean Pictet (ed.), Commentaire: IIIème Convention de Genève Relative au Traitement des Prisonniers de Guerre, 1960, p. 21.

38 Siordet, Frédéric, The Geneva Conventions of 1949: The Question of Scrutiny, ICRC, Geneva, 1953, p. 21.

39 In his concluding remarks regarding common Article 10/10/10/11, Siordet considers that the reason for imposing such an obligation upon third States is precisely to “strengthen[] Article 1”. Ibid., p. 71.

40 Ibid. Although Siordet focuses on the role of Protecting Powers, he makes the link between this new function and the existence of a legal obligation to ensure respect by others as enshrined in CA 1. Moreover, he broadly defines this obligation as one of due diligence – an issue that this article addresses in a later section. Siordet writes in ibid., p. 44, that:

The Protecting Power, on the other hand, whose action takes place in the territory of a foreign country, has only limited means at its disposal. Nevertheless the Conventions make it compulsory, within the limits of these means, for the Protecting Power to lend its services and to exercise its scrutiny in the application of the Conventions, in so far as it is itself a Party to the Conventions. The formal obligation of Article 1 “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances” is as compulsory for it as for the Parties to the conflict. That is a situation heavy with consequences.

41 Forsythe, David P., “Who Guards the Guardians: Third Parties and the Law of Armed Conflict”, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 70, No. 1, 1976, p. 43.

42 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 31(3)(b).

43 International Conference on Human Rights, Resolution XXIII: Human Rights in Armed Conflict, Teheran, 12 May 1968, preamble, available at: www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/1968a.htm.

44 Kalshoven has expressed doubts on construing Resolution XXIII as an implicit acceptance of the legal obligation enshrined in CA 1. F. Kalshoven, above note 9, p. 43. Other authors do not hesitate to support the opposite view. See e.g. F. Azzam, above note 12, p. 62.

45 ICJ, Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Judgment (Merits), 27 June 1986, para. 220.

46 Ibid.

47 ICJ, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Wall Case), Advisory Opinion, 9 July 2004, para. 158. See also ICJ, Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), Judgment, 19 December 2005, paras 211 and 345. In this case, the ICJ did not analyse the issue of third States' responsibility. However, it did indeed consider that the undertaking to ensure respect for IHL constituted a legal obligation under international law.

48 Condorelli and Boisson de Chazournes consider that “common Article 1 has in the last ten years [1990–2000] almost become a basic norm of behaviour … within the framework of the United Nations”: see L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 4, pp. 76–78, for a more detailed study on UN practice. See also Pfanner, Toni, “Various Mechanisms and Approaches for Implementing International Humanitarian Law and Protecting and Assisting War Victims”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 91, No. 874, 2009, pp. 305306 and 314–323.

49 Similarly, other intergovernmental organizations have also called upon their members to comply with their duty to ensure respect under CA 1. See e.g. NATO, Parliamentary Assembly, Civilian Affairs Committee Resolution No. 287, Amsterdam, 15 November 1999, para. 7.

50 UN SC Res. 681 (1990), UN Doc. S/RES/681, 20 December 1990.

51 UN SC Res. 764 (1992), UN Doc. S/RES/764, 13 July 1992.

52 UN SC Res. 955 (1994), UN Doc. S/RES/955, 6 November 1994.

53 Report Submitted to the Security Council by the Secretary-General in Accordance with Resolution 605 (1987), UN Doc. S/19443, 21 January 1988, paras 24–27.

54 UN GA Res. 45/69, UN Doc. A/RES/45/69, 6 December 1990, para. 3.

55 See e.g. UN GA Res. 60/105, UN Doc. A/RES/60/105, 8 December 2005, para. 3; UN GA Res. 62/107, UN Doc. A/RES/62/107, 17 December 2007, para. 3; UN GA Res. 63/96, UN Doc. A/RES/63/96, 5 December 2008, para. 3; UN GA Res. 68/81, UN Doc. A/RES/68/81, 16 December 2013, para. 3; and UN GA Res. 68/82, UN Doc. A/RES/68/82, 16 December 2013, para. 7.

56 See e.g. UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1990/12, 30 August 1990, para. 4; Res. 1991/6, 23 August 1991, para. 4; Res. 1992/10, 26 August 1992, para. 4; and Res. 1993/15, 20 August 1993, para. 4.

57 See e.g. UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 2005/7, 14 April 2005, preamble and para. 5. This resolution “[c]alls upon Member States to take the necessary measures that fulfil their obligations under the instruments of international human rights law and international humanitarian law to ensure that Israel ceases killing, targeting, arresting and harassing Palestinians, particularly women and children” (emphasis in original).

58 Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/4/NGO/59, 7 March 2007.

59 Levrat, Nicolas, “Les conséquences de l'engagement pris par les Hautes Parties contractantes de ‘faire respecter’ les Conventions humanitaires”, in Kalshoven, Frits and Sandoz, Yves (eds), Mise en œuvre du droit international humanitaire, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht and Boston, 1989, p. 269 (translation by the authors): “en connaissance de cause”. See also Y. Sandoz, C. Swinarski and B. Zimmermann, above note 14, para. 44: “[M]ost importantly, the Diplomatic Conference fully understood and wished to impose this duty on each Party to the Conventions, and therefore reaffirmed it in the Protocol as a general principle.”

60 Final Declaration of the International Conference for the Protection of War Victims, Geneva, 1 September 1993, at II(11), available at: www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/57jms8.htm.

61 See also 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Resolution 3, 2007, para. 2.

62 See e.g. F. Bugnion, above note 17, p. 1081.

63 ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts, Geneva, December 2003, p. 47, available at: www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/ihlcontemp_armedconflicts_final_ang.pdf.

64 Gasser, Hans-Peter, “Ensuring Respect for the Geneva Conventions and Protocols: The Role of the Third States and the United Nations”, in Fox, Hazel and Meyer, Michael A. (eds), Effecting Compliance, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 1993, p. 31; L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 7, p. 27; N. Levrat, above note 59, p. 291; T. Zych, above note 7, p. 256.

65 H.-P. Gasser, above note 64, p. 32.

66 Ibid.

67 European Union, “Updated European Union Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL)”, Official Journal of the European Union, Doc. 2009/C 303/06, 15 December 2009, pp. 12–15, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:52009XG1215(01)&from=EN.

68 In addition to the practice specifically referenced in this article, see the ICRC database on State practice for further examples, available at: www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule144. As can be seen, and contrary to what is sometimes asserted (see Kessler, Birgit, “The Duty to ‘Ensure Respect’ under Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions: Its Implications on International and Non-International Armed Conflicts”, German Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 44, 2001, p. 509), States have also acted and invoked CA 1 in situations of NIAC – see infra the cases of Syria, Libya and Sudan.

69 The Venice Declaration”, Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1999.

70 See e.g. European Council, Presidency Conclusions of the European Council: Annex V, 25 and 26 June 1990, available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=DOC/90/2&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en; Presidency Conclusions Brussels European Council, 17 October 2003, available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=DOC/03/4&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en.

71 See e.g. European Commission, EU–Israel: Implementation of the Interim Agreement in the Framework of a Strengthened Regional Cooperation, 13 May 1998, available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/98/426&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en; and Jerusalem and Ramallah Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem, 2005, available at: www.nodo50.org/csca/agenda05/palestina/jerusalen-ue_eng.pdf.

72 Council of the European Union, Declaration by the Presidency on Behalf of the EU on Israeli Settlements, 9 September 2009, available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_PESC-09-106_en.htm?locale=EN.

73 See e.g. “EU's Ashton Criticizes Israel for Approval of ‘Illegal’ Settlement Homes”, Haaretz, 23 February 2012, available at: www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/eu-s-ashton-criticizes-israel-for-approval-of-illegal-settlement-homes-1.414327.

74 Department of the Treasury, An Overview of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, 25 July 2008, available at: www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/sudan.pdf.

75 Human Rights Council, “Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with Commission of Inquiry on alleged Human Rights Violations in Libya”, 9 June 2011, available at: www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11131&LangID=E.

76 “EU Agrees Libya Arms Embargo, Travel Ban”, Reuters, 28 February 2011, available at: www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/28/eu-libya-sanctions-idAFLDE71R1NI20110228.

77 “Several Countries Expel Syrian Diplomats as EU Mulls Joint Expulsion”, Al Arabiya News, 29 May 2012, available at: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/05/29/217206.html.

78 EU Statement, with the alignment of Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the countries of the Stabilization and Association Process, United Nations General Assembly: Humanitarian Situation in Syria, 25 February 2014, available at: www.eu-un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_14647_en.htm.

79 For a brief analysis on how resolutions, declarations and other normative instruments adopted by international organizations can be constitutive of the opinio juris of IHL rules, see Meron, Theodor, Human Rights and Humanitarian Norms as Customary Law, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989.

80 ICJ, Nicaragua v. United States of America, above note 45, para. 220.

81 See International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), The Prosecutor v. Zoran Kupreskic and Others, Case No. IT-95-16-T, Judgment (Trial Chamber), 14 January 2000, para. 519:

As a consequence of their absolute character, these norms of international humanitarian law do not pose synallagmatic obligations, i.e. obligations of a State vis-à-vis another State. Rather – as was stated by the International Court of Justice in the Barcelona Traction case (which specifically referred to obligations concerning fundamental human rights) – they lay down obligations towards the international community as a whole, with the consequence that each and every member of the international community has a “legal interest” in their observance and consequently a legal entitlement to demand respect for such obligations.

See also Kamenov, Tihomir, “The Origin of State and Entity Responsibility for Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts”, in Kalshoven, Frits and Sandoz, Yves (eds), Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht and Boston, 1989, pp. 193194; Moir, Lindsay, The Law of Internal Armed Conflict, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2002, p. 245; ICJ, Wall Case, above note 47, paras 155–157; ICJ, Barcelona Traction Light and Power Company Limited, Judgment, ICJ Reports 1970, paras 33–34, states:

An essential distinction should be drawn between the obligations of the State towards the international community as a whole, and those arising vis-à-vis another State … By their very nature, the former are the concern of all States. In view of the importance of the rights involved all States can be held to have a legal interest in their protection; they are obligations erga omnes.

82 In the Wall Case, the ICJ made a clear distinction between the existence of erga omnes obligations within the body of IHL and the obligation imposed upon third States by CA 1 to ensure respect in all circumstances. See ICJ, Wall Case, above note 47, paras 155–159. For an in-depth analysis of the legal regime of erga omnes obligations, as well as of the diverging features of other treaty-based obligations in whose performance all contracting parties are said to have a legal interest (also referred to as erga omnes partes or erga omnes contractantes obligations), see Tams, Christian J., Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 117157.

83 ICJ, Nicaragua v. United States of America, above note 45, para. 220.

84 J. Pictet, above note 12, p. 17.

85 Y. Sandoz, C. Swinarski and B. Zimmermann, above note 14, para. 40. Bothe, Michael, Partsch, Karl Josef and Solf, Waldemar A., New Rules for the Victims of Armed Conflicts: Commentary on the Two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague and Boston, 1982, p. 43:

Since para. 1 does not limit the obligations of the High Contracting Parties to territories involved in the conflict, the obligation to ensure respect for the Protocol falls also upon Parties not involved in the conflict. They have to use any lawful means at their disposal in their international relations to ensure that the High Contracting Parties involved respect the Protocol.

86 ICJ, Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2007, para. 162:

The ordinary meaning of the word “undertake” is to give a formal promise, to bind or engage oneself, to give a pledge or promise, to agree, to accept an obligation. It is a word regularly used in treaties setting out the obligations of the Contracting Parties … It is not merely hortatory or purposive. The undertaking is unqualified … and it is not to be read merely as an introduction to later express references to legislation, prosecution and extradition. Those features support the conclusion that Article I, in particular its undertaking to prevent, creates obligations distinct from those which appear in the subsequent Articles. That conclusion is also supported by the purely humanitarian and civilizing purpose of the Convention.

87 Pisillo-Mazzeschi, Riccardo, “The Due Diligence Rule and the Nature of the International Responsibility of States”, German Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 35, 1992, pp. 4748.

88 Ibid., p. 48.

89 See e.g. F. Azzam, above note 12, pp. 73–74.

90 L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 4, p. 39; Paolo Benvenuti, “Ensuring Observance of International Humanitarian Law: Function, Extent and Limits of the Obligation of Third States to Ensure Respect of IHL”, International Institute of Humanitarian Law Yearbook, 1989–1990, p. 29; M. Bothe, K. J. Partsch and W. A. Solf, above note 85, p. 43.

91 F. Azzam, above note 12, p. 74.

92 H-P. Gasser, above note 64, p. 28.

93 For an example of how burden and means can be correlated with regard to the principle of non-refoulement, see Colassis, Laurent, “The Role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Stability Operations”, in “Pete” Pedrozo, Raul A. (ed.), The War in Iraq: A Legal Analysis, US Naval War College International Law Studies, 2010, pp. 467468.

94 See ICJ, Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, above note 86, para. 430:

It is clear that the obligation in question is one of conduct and not one of result, in the sense that a State cannot be under an obligation to succeed, whatever the circumstances, in preventing the commission of genocide: the obligation of States parties is rather to employ all means reasonably available to them, so as to prevent genocide so far as possible. A State does not incur responsibility simply because the desired result is not achieved; responsibility is however incurred if the State manifestly failed to take all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power, and which might have contributed to preventing the genocide. In this area the notion of “due diligence”, which calls for an assessment in concreto, is of critical importance. Various parameters operate when assessing whether a State has duly discharged the obligation concerned. The first, which varies greatly from one State to another, is clearly the capacity to influence.

95 Ibid.

96 See Barnidge, Robert P., “The Due Diligence Principle under International Law”, International Community Law Review, Vol. 8, 2006, p. 118 : “While general principles can, and should, be sketched in the abstract, here, as elsewhere, the assessment under the due diligence rule is necessarily specific to particular facts and circumstances.”

97 T. Pfanner, above note 48, p. 305.

98 A. Devillard, above note 9, p. 101; B. Kessler, above note 68, p. 506, states: “The intensity of the treaties’ violations is another element that is important for obliging the States to take further steps to ‘ensure respect’ of the Conventions. This already follows from the ratio legis of the Geneva treaties.”

99 According to Kessler, this “special relationship” originates from different factors, such as “common history, common ethnical roots or even geographical proximity”. Ibid., p. 506. As seen above, Gasser focuses on military and economic influence. See H.-P. Gasser, above note 64, p. 28.

100 For a full analysis of this question, see Palwankar, Umesh, “Measures Available to States for Fulfilling their Obligation to Ensure Respect for International Humanitarian Law”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 33, No. 298, 1993, pp. 925. See also the possible actions that the EU has identified in its guidelines on the promotion of IHL (European Union, above note 67): political dialogue, general public statements, démarches and/or public statements about specific conflicts, restrictive measures/sanctions, cooperation with other international bodies, crisis management operations, individual responsibility, training, denying export of arms.

101 AP I, Art. 90.

102 See e.g. ibid., Art. 89.

103 L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 4, pp. 76–78. See also H.-P. Gasser, above note 64, p. 29: “The right to take action with a view to ensuring full respect for humanitarian law by belligerents does not include the right to derogate from the prohibition to use force against another State. This seems to be uncontroversial.”

104 B. Kessler, above note 68, p. 506.

105 L. Condorelli and L. Boisson de Chazournes, above note 4, pp. 76–78. See also ICRC, “The ICRC's Position on ‘Humanitarian Intervention’”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 83, No. 842, 2001, pp. 530531:

The question of what measures are to be taken by the States and the United Nations in order to put an end to [breaches of IHL] is not dealt with by humanitarian law, but rather by the UN Charter (Chapters VII and VIII) … If armed intervention is decided upon, the Security Council can decide whether it is to be carried out by the UN forces or delegated to a State or regional security body. However, Article 53 of the Charter specifies that “no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council”.

Article 89 of AP I stipulates in this regard that in cases of serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and AP I, the High Contracting Parties undertake to act, jointly or individually, in cooperation with the UN and in conformity with the UN Charter.

106 R. Pisillo-Mazzeschi, above note 87, p. 50.

107 ICJ, Nicaragua v. United States of America, above note 45, para. 220.

108 T. Meron, above note 79, p. 31.

109 Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, November 2001, Supplement No. 10 (A/56/10), chp.IV.E.1, Art. 16.

110 Ibid., Art. 41(2). See also ICJ, Wall Case, above note 47, paras 158–159, recalling also CA 1.

111 A. Devillard, above note 9, p. 86: “L'interdiction de l'aide ou de l'assistance à la violation du droit international est une règle coutumière qui s'apparente au concept de complicité en droit interne.” See also B. Kessler, above note 68, p. 503; C. Focarelli, above note 7, pp. 169–170; F. Kalshoven, above note 9, pp. 503–504; Sandoz, Yves, “Mise en œuvre du droit international humanitaire”, in UNESCO and Institut Henry-Dunant, Les dimensions internationales du droit humanitaire, Pedone, Paris, 1986, pp. 302303.

112 Security Council, Resolution 1906 (2009), UN Doc. S/RES/1906, 23 December 2009.

113 The same logic could apply with a view to stopping and preventing violations, as shown in the following sections.

114 N. Levrat, above note 59, p. 268 (translation by the authors). The French original reads: “[L]’étendue de l'obligation de ‘faire respecter’ couvre un champ indubitablement plus large que simplement ‘ne pas encourager.’”

115 ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 11, p. 509.

116 J. Pictet, above note 12, p. 16.

117 Y. Sandoz, C. Swinarski and B. Zimmermann, above note 14, paras 42–43.

118 ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts, above note 63, p. 49.

119 See ICJ, Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, above note 86, para. 162.

120 Ibid., para. 430.

121 Ibid.

122 Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, above note 5, p. 53.

123 A. Devillard, above note 9, p. 96.

124 Ibid.

125 Ibid., pp. 96 (where Devillard speaks of a specific risk) and 97 (“une obligation de prévention des violations du droit humanitaire dont on peut raisonnablement craindre la commission”).

126 H.-P. Gasser, above note 64, pp. 31–32.

127 N. Levrat, above note 59, p. 277 (translation by the authors): “La faute consisterait dans ce cas en la non-utilisation des moyens existants pour empêcher la survenance d'une violation des Conventions.”

128 See e.g. International Law Commission, “Draft Articles on Prevention of Transboundary Harm from Hazardous Activities, with Commentaries”, Yearbook of the International Law Commission, Vol. 2, Part 2, 2001, pp. 153154:

In general, in the context of prevention, a State of origin does not bear the risk of unforeseeable consequences … [D]ue diligence is manifested in reasonable efforts by a State to inform itself of factual and legal components that relate foreseeably to a contemplated procedure and to take appropriate measures, in timely fashion, to address them. Thus, States are under an obligation to take unilateral measures to prevent significant transboundary harm or at any event to minimize the risk thereof.

Note that “the ILC's description of the due diligence principle can be analogized to international law generally when the operative rule at issue imposes a due diligence obligation” (R. P. Barnidge, above note 96, p. 117).

129 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Resolution 3, 2007, para. 2.

130 UN SC Res. 681, above note 50, para. 3.

131 Ibid., para. 5.

132 A. Devillard, above note 9, p. 113.

133 T. Pfanner, above note 48, p. 280.

134 Sassòli, Marco, “State Responsibility for Violations of International Humanitarian Law”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 84, No. 846, 2002, p. 401 : “For a branch of law that applies in a fundamentally anarchic, illegal and often lawless situation such as armed conflicts, the focus of implementing mechanisms is and must always be on prevention.”

135 See e.g. Y. Sandoz, above note 111, p. 299: “Il nous a paru que l'on pouvait distinguer trois types de moyens [pour la mise en œuvre du droit international humanitaire]: le moyens préventifs … les moyens de contrôle … [et] les moyens de répression.”

136 B. Kessler, above note 68, p. 499, with further references:

Article 1 does not state anything about how the States shall ensure that the Conventions are respected … Under the assumption that “ensuring respect” of a rule means making someone respect it, there are four means of enforcement: (1) repressive action against any violation of the Conventions, (2) help by one State to enable another State to fulfil its duties under the Conventions, (3) control, and (4) prevention.

137 Geneva Conventions, Arts 10/10/10/11.

138 Geneva Conventions, Arts 47/48/127/144.

139 Geneva Conventions, Arts 49/50/129/146; AP I, Arts 11, 85 and 86.

140 Geneva Conventions, Arts 49(3)/50(3)/129(3)/146(3).

141 Jean Pictet (ed.), Commentary: I Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 1952, p. 367: “The expression ‘faire cesser’, employed in the French text, is open to various interpretations. In our opinion it covers everything a State can do to prevent the commission, or the repetition, of acts contrary to the Convention.”

142 A. Devillard, above note 9, p. 97. For a brief analysis on the importance of prevention and deterrence in the context of international criminal law, see ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Blaskic, Case No. IT-95-14-A, Judgment (Appeals Chamber), 29 July 2004, para. 678.

143 General Assembly, Arms Trade Treaty, UN Doc. A/Res/67/234 B, 2 April 2013.

144 General Act of the Brussels Conference Relative to the African Slave Trade, Brussels, 2 July 1890, Art. VIII.

145 For a comprehensive study of the norm-building process that preceded the ATT, see García, Denise, Small Arms and Security: New Emerging International Norms, Routledge, London, 2006.

146 An International Agenda on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Elements of a Common Understanding – Concerns and Challenges, Oslo, 1998, cited in D. García, above note 145, pp. 46–58.

147 ICRC, Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Geneva, 1999, p. 1.

148 Ibid., p. 24.

149 308th Plenary Meeting of the OSCE, Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, FSC.DOC/1/00/Rev.1, 24 November 2004, Section III(A)(2)(b)(v).

150 OAS, Model Regulations for the Control of Brokers of Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, 2003, Art. 5: “The National Authority shall prohibit brokering activities and refuse to grant licenses if it has reason to believe that the brokering activities will, or seriously threaten to … (c) lead to the perpetration of war crimes contrary to international law.”

151 ECOWAS, Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials, 2006, Art. 6(2): “A transfer shall not be authorised if its authorisation violates obligations of the requesting States, as well as those of Member States, under international law, including … universally accepted principles of international humanitarian law.”

152 Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Best Practice Guidelines for the Implementation of the Nairobi Declaration and the Nairobi Protocol on Small Arms and Light Weapons, 2005, p. 25:

State Parties shall not authorize transfers which are likely to be used … (ii) for the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law; (iii) in acts of aggression against another State or population, threatening the national security or territorial integrity of another State, or threatening compliance with international law governing the conduct of armed conflict.

153 N. Levrat, above note 59, p. 277.

154 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Agenda for Humanitarian Action, Geneva, 2003, final goal 2(3). In a report submitted to High Contracting Parties during the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the ICRC reiterated that the obligation to ensure respect “entails a responsibility [for all States] to make every effort to ensure that the arms and ammunition they transfer do not end up in the hands of persons who are likely to use them in violation of IHL”: ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflict, report of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, October 2011, p. 46.

155 UN GA Res. 61/89, UN Doc. A/Res/61/89, 18 December 2006, para. 2.

156 Daniel Thürer, International Humanitarian Law: Theory, Practice, Context, The Hague Academy of International Law, 2011, p. 223.

157 Ibid., p. 224.

158 Yihdego, Zeray, The Arms Trade and International Law, Hart Publishing, Portland OR, 2007, pp. 226232, with further references.

159 UN GA Res, 67/234, UN Doc. A/Res/67/234 B, 2 April 2013 (Armes Trade Treaty).

160 Ibid., 5th principle of the preamble.

161 Ibid., Arts 7(1)(b)(i) and 7(3).

162 ICRC, Arms Transfer Decisions: Applying International Law Criteria, Geneva, 2007, pp. 915.

163 M. Sassòli, above note 134, p. 413.

164 Ibid., pp. 412–413; Brehm, Maya, “The Arms Trade and States’ Duty to Ensure Respect for Humanitarian and Human Rights Law”, Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2008, pp. 375377 and 386; Boivin, Alexandra, “Complicity and Beyond: International Law and the Transfer of Small Arms and Light Weapons”, in International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 87, No. 859, 2005, pp. 475479.

165 See e.g. Droege, Cordula, “Transfer of Detainees: Legal Framework, Non-Refoulement and Contemporary Challenges”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 90, No. 871, 2008, p. 687. Droege makes the link between the transfer of detainees and the obligation to ensure respect, which – as already indicated – also applies to multinational forces:

Beyond the responsibility arising from direct attribution to them, international organizations are also bound by the obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Thus, if a multinational operation is carried out under the umbrella of an international organization, that organization is particularly well placed to take steps to prevent and terminate violations of international humanitarian law committed by the State. In such cases it should exert its influence as far as possible within the framework of its relations with the state concerned.

166 This is what can be deduced from current State practice, including the above-mentioned resolutions adopted by the High Contracting Parties during the International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

167 ICJ, Nicaragua v. United States of America, above note 45, para. 220.

* This article was written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ICRC.

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International Review of the Red Cross
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