ICRC Launches New Guidance Bolstering Relevance of Geneva Conventions

Note to our readers: The US launch of the Commentaries will take place on March 30 from 2:00 to 3:30pm at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.. For more information click here.

On March 23, we'll also publish a new video featuring ICRC DC Legal Advisor, Chris Harland, talking about how the Commentaries can generate greater respect for IHL.

Colombia: An ICRC employee speaks to members of the ELN armed group about IHL and the obligation to respect the lives of the civilian population, health personnel, and the sick or wounded.  Photographer: ARREDONDO, Juan Copyright: Getty Images/CICR

Colombia: An ICRC employee speaks to members of the ELN armed group about IHL and the obligation to respect the lives of the civilian population, health personnel, and the sick or wounded.  Photographer: ARREDONDO, Juan Copyright: Getty Images/CICR

Geneva - The International Committee of the Red Cross has unveiled major new guidance on the implementation of the Geneva Conventions, bolstering arguments that despite violations, the laws governing armed conflict remain relevant, crucial to saving lives, and must not be abandoned.
 
The ICRC’s Director of International Law and Policy, Helen Durham, said that while it was “becoming fashionable to talk about the erosion of International Humanitarian Law” of which the Conventions form the core, the new publication, known as the Commentaries, “shows that this is a living body of law, which, far from being eroded, is playing a vital role.”
 
“Even amid the horrific violence in Syria for example, the Geneva Conventions enable us to prevail on the warring parties to let us cross the front lines, delivering medical care and relief supplies to the millions of people trapped in the conflict. Of course it is far from enough and remains extremely difficult, but without the Geneva Conventions, none of this would be possible.”
 
The new Commentaries draw on the last 60 years of scholarship and interpretation of these treaties to reflect the contemporary legal reality. “They are meant to be a practical tool for military and government lawyers and courts and can assist those who will need to apply the Conventions in the future,” explains Jean-Marie Henckaerts, who heads the commentaries project.
 
The ICRC strongly believes that coherent interpretation of the law enhances respect for it. The updated commentaries provide concrete guidance on such issues as the obligation to treat the wounded and sick, and they devote considerable attention to non-international conflicts which form the bulk of today’s wars. The prohibition on sexual violence and the principle of non-refoulement, i.e. the prohibition on sending people back to countries where their lives might be endangered, are also clarified in the commentaries.
 
The Geneva Conventions are being studied, discussed, and dissected more than ever before, and these Commentaries will be an important part of the discourse, Dr. Durham said.

”Yes, there is a big gap between the law on paper and its implementation, but that can never be an argument for saying the Conventions are no longer relevant despite the key role they are fulfilling. The Geneva Conventions are not just some historical documents born of another time, they are of burning relevance and importance today – and we need to ensure that their enormous humanitarian potential is recognized and acted upon by all.”


For press queries, please contact:
Trevor Keck, ICRC Washington D.C., tel: +1 (858) 705-3684
OR Francis Markus, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 29 244 64 24