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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · Geneva


Fifty-ninth General Assembly
Sixth Committee
5th Meeting (PM)
GA/L/3252
13 October 2004
 
STRICT OBSERVANCE OF HUMANITARIAN LAW, MEASURES TO PROTECT
 
DIPLOMATS URGED IN ASSEMBLY’S LEGAL COMMITTEE
As Status of New Protocols to Geneva Convention Is Discussed,
Delegates Stress Key Role of International Committee of Red Cross
(Issued on 14 October 2004.)


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Background

The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this afternoon to consider an agenda item on the status of the two Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts.  It was also expected to take up the subject of safeguarding diplomatic facilities and persons.

Protocols I and II, the 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, relate to the protection of victims of international and non-international conflicts respectively.

Currently, there are 162 States parties to Protocol I, and 157 States parties to Protocol II.  Sixty-eight States parties have recognized the competence of the International Fact-Finding Commission provided for in article 90 of Protocol I.

The Geneva Conventions consist of Treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland, that set the standards for international humanitarian law.  The First Geneva Convention (1864) covers the treatment of battlefield casualties; the Second (1906) extends the principles from the first convention to apply also to war at sea; the Third (1929) deals with the treatment of prisoners of war; and the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) relates to the protection of civilians during times of war and under any occupation by a foreign power.

In 2002, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on the status of the Additional Protocols, as well as measures taken to strengthen the existing body of international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General’s report (A/59/321) contains a summary of responses from 18 countries and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  The report also contains a list of States parties to the Additional Protocols of 1977 as at 2 June 2004.

The Secretary-General’s report on measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives (document A/59/125 and Add.1) summarizes communications from States on conditions affecting their consular facilities.  Reporting were:  Burkina Faso, concerning violations of its official premises and personnel in Côte d’Ivoire; Germany, with regard to its Ambassador’s residence in Harare, Zimbabwe; Kuwait, relative to incidents involving its embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli; Mali, on incidents involving the residence of its diplomatic representatives in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire, which in turn reported that the incidents were being investigated; and Finland, relative to events at foreign embassies within its territory.

In the report, the Secretary-General says, Mali noted that receiving States connected with diplomacy-related activities should make security guards available free of charge to missions requesting them.  The United Arab Emirates reported no violations, but stressed the importance of compliance with the principle of reciprocity among States on protection of diplomacy-related premises.  Qatar, Lebanon, Slovenia and Mexico also reported no violations.

Also included in the report is a tabular update on the status of participation in relevant international conventions.  These are:  the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and 1963; the Optional Protocols on Diplomatic Relations concerning Acquisition of Nationality (1961 and 1963) and Compulsory Settlement of disputes (1961 and 1963); and finally, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents (1973).

The addendum contains a later report by Switzerland about incidents to the premises owned by Missions of the Russian Federation, the United States and Syria.  There is also a report by Norway on incidents involving the diplomatic premises of Denmark, India, Iran, Israel, United Kingdom, United States, Sri Lanka and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Statements on Geneva Convention Protocols

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JURG LAUBER (Switzerland) announced, as the depositoryState, that by today the Geneva Conventions had been ratified by 192 States.  There were 162 States parties to the Additional Protocol I and 157 to Protocol II.  The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, established under article I of Additional Protocol I, had been accepted by 68 States.  Switzerland continued to believe that the Commission had the necessary potential for improving implementation of international humanitarian law.

He told the Committee that Switzerland was carrying out the mandate entrusted to it by the Tenth Emergency Special Session concerning respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied PalestinianTerritory.  It was currently in the process of establishing first contacts with the parties most interested in the matter.

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SALIM IBRAHIM AL-NAQBI (United Arab Emirates) said reports by Fact-Finding Committees showed that international humanitarian agencies had been added to the civilian and national-institution targets of those perpetrating illegal acts with the most modern weapons.  Multilateral mechanisms must be created to implement the four Geneva Conventions and their Protocols.  A transparent and non-discriminatory policy must be developed to identify, pursue and execute the perpetrators of war crimes and other acts of genocide.  His country was not only a ratified State to those instruments but was incorporating the principles into national legislation.

He said commitment to the Conventions and Protocols was admirable but the serious violations of rights by Israel against the Palestinians and in the Syrian Golan were alarming.  The international community must discharge its responsibility and put pressure on Israel to comply with its obligations.

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MUIN BURHAN SHREIM (Observer for Palestine) recalled that the first Protocol related to international armed conflicts and the second to non-international ones.  He said the two together filled in important gaps in the original instruments.  Wars of national liberation were covered by the first as was the right to self-determination.  The Secretary-General’s report indicated that many more States had become parties to the Protocols since the last report.  That showed growing international support for the instruments, just as the call for respecting them in the Occupied Territory was growing louder.  Israeli settlements continued to expand and Israel continued building its wall, despite an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice against it.

For 37 years, he said, Israel had been turning a deaf ear to the international community’s calls for respecting the Geneva Conventions and Protocols.  There were many steps the international community could take to put pressure on Israel to comply.  Those steps should be taken.

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ALI HAFRAD (Algeria) said his country had joined most of the international humanitarian laws.  It had in October 2001 ratified the 1997 Ottawa Convention on Anti-personnel mines.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and its provisions on protection of civilians in armed conflict.  He said the report had major shortcomings, in that it did not say anything about the plight of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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SABRI CHAABANI (Tunisia) said the protocols were an integral part of international humanitarian law.  All countries must respect the rules of such laws, particularly with regard to protecting civilians in armed conflict, a provision that was most relevant to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.  The international community must bring pressure to bear in getting respect for the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.

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Statements in Right of Reply

Israel’s representative said the Committee was not the right forum to discuss the situation in the Middle East.  International humanitarian law should not be used for political purposes to present a one-sided view of the situation in the occupied territories.  Israel had the right to protect its people.  It also had responsibilities, and it accepted those.  However, it was time to stop pretending that only one party had responsibility for the human rights situation in the area.  Responsibility for the need to live in terror and the situation of the Palestinian people themselves being killed by suicide bombers among them must be borne by all parties.

Jordan’s representative said this was the appropriate forum to discuss the application of international humanitarian law.  He welcomed Israel’s statement that it would respect its obligations as an occupying force, but the principle of the right to defence had certain well-defined elements.  For example, the measure used must not be a form of collective punishment; excessive force must not be used.  Every State had the right to defend its citizens, but it also had international obligations.

The Observer for Palestine said Israel was interested in silencing everyone who wanted to bring up the situation of international humanitarian law in the occupied territories.  Indiscriminate attacks were being carried out and excessive force was being used.  The International Court of Justice had affirmed Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens, but it had also affirmed that it must meet its obligations.

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