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18 October 2006

General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly
Sixth Committee
8th Meeting (AM)


Adoption of ‘Red Crystal’ Emblem by Latest Geneva Protocol
Widely Applauded, as Broadening Protections of Red Cross, Red Crescent



The Sixth (Legal) Committee met this morning to continue its debate on its new agenda item on “The rule of law at the national and international levels”.  (For background information, see Press Release GA/L/3299 of 16 October 2006.)  It was also to begin consideration of the status of the two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which deal with the protection of victims of armed conflicts.  The Committee may also take up the question of effective measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives


Protocols additional to Geneva Conventions


BEN PLAYLE (Australia), speaking also for Canada and New Zealand, applauded the adoption last December of the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which established the “Red Crystal” as an additional protective emblem for humanitarian workers, free of any extraneous political or religious connotation.  He said the Red Crystal would have the same status as the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent.  That represented an important advance in furthering the universal character of international humanitarian law.  The adoption of the Third Additional Protocol, and the consequent amendments to the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, allowed for the simultaneous admission into the Movement of the Israeli Magen David Adom Society and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.  He said that was a crucial step towards ensuring that access to humanitarian assistance was universally available.  The Protocol would enhance the protection of people affected by conflicts and natural disasters, and humanitarian workers who provided critical assistance to those in need.

He said that more than 70 States had signed the Third Additional Protocol and six had ratified.  Their group emphasized the need to ensure that fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, were afforded to both civilians and combatants to mitigate the humanitarian impact of armed conflicts.  They firmly believed that the principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be respected by all, to enhance the legal and physical protection of civilians in armed conflict.  He said Australia, Canada and New Zealand were all parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Ms. SOTANIEMI (Finland), speaking for the European Union, urged Member States to accede to the Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as the extra Protocol establishing the extra emblem of the Red Crystal.  As most of the provisions of the Conventions and their Protocols were generally recognized as customary law, it was clear that the focus was on the full implementation and dissemination of international humanitarian law.  She said the studies by the ICRC on Customary International Humanitarian Law deserved careful study by Member States.  Without proper training of armed forces in particular, the norms of international humanitarian law remained without practical relevance.  She called upon all States to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

ANDERS LIDÉN ( Sweden), speaking for the Nordic countries, said States had a duty to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, which continued to be extended and refined.  He welcomed the recent publication by the ICRC of its study on Customary International Humanitarian Law.  The study on situations of non-international armed conflict was particularly useful.  The International Criminal Court was of paramount importance in the quest for compliance with international humanitarian law and, also, to ending impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  He urged States to make the declaration accepting the competence of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to inquire into any facts alleged to be grave breaches; it was of the utmost importance that the international community reacted to breaches at an early stage.  The international community must become more effective in that respect to deter future breaches.  The training of military and armed forces in international humanitarian law remained a priority.

GEORGE TALBOT ( Guyana), speaking for the Rio Group, said the Geneva Conventions were considered landmarks in the development of international humanitarian law.  While 194 States were parties to the Conventions, not all of them were parties to the Protocols.  There had been an intense United Nations effort to promote a better understanding and implementation of the Protocols.  He was pleased that the ICRC had continued to play a significant role in promoting compliance with the Conventions, and appreciated its help in clarifying and developing them.   He particularly appreciated its efforts to affirm important concepts related to the so-called “war against terrorism” and the status and rights of detainees.

SAEED ALWAN AL-HEBSI ( United Arab Emirates) expressed deep concern at the continued violations by Israel of its obligations under the four Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols both inside the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967 and “in its recent wars in the region”.  Over the past summer, he said, television viewers had seen and heard reports by humanitarian agencies of the sad and heinous events that took place in the civilian communities in Lebanon and Gaza, including the massacres committed by Israeli forces.  He said the reports had also depicted the demolition of hospitals, electricity and water facilities, and humanitarian corridors.  He said the “shameful Israeli violations” which continued against the besieged people of Gaza could have been prevented if the international community had taken preventive measures to deter the repeated aggression by Governments in Israel during the past six decades.

He called upon the international community, represented by the States parties to those Conventions and their Additional Protocols, especially the effective members of the Quartet in the Security Council, to shoulder their responsibilities.  They should make the necessary efforts, away from double standards, to stop Israel’s grave violations and to ensure full compliance with those instruments.  He said the continued international tolerance of Israel’s repeated aggressions against the Arab peoples would reduce the credibility and universality of those noble Conventions.  The perpetrators of those crimes and of grave violations of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols must be tracked down and brought to justice.  They should also be made to pay compensation for the material and emotional damages to the victims.


NAJJIB ELJI ( Syria) said the Geneva Conventions had become part and parcel of international customary law.  History affirmed their relevance and the need for their provisions to be applied strictly to avoid the horrific acts that could be perpetrated in war.  In the early years of Islam, an international Islamic humanitarian law had been developed.  It outlawed the targeting of women, children and the elderly.  It also prohibited the destruction of trees and places of worship and homes.

He said the elaboration of the Geneva Conventions followed the bloody wars in Europe.  Wartime atrocities had confirmed their necessity.  The Conventions, however, had not prevented Israel from violating international humanitarian law in its attacks on Lebanon when it had deliberately targeted civilians, massacred women and children and purposely destroyed infrastructures.  He said that Israel clearly did not respect the international legal system and its actions not only bore witness to that country’s barbarism but also to the indifference of the world in its refusal to take action against Israel for its violations.

He said the system of international humanitarian law and the United Nations faced a major challenge in deciding how to ensure implementation of the provisions of the Conventions.


TAMAR KAPLAN ( Israel) said that recent events exemplified the effect of the dilution of the law of armed conflict and the profound distinction between civilians and combatants on which the laws of armed conflict were predicated.  Those principles constituted the raison d’etre of the international laws of armed conflict, and had become their universally recognized foundations.  Today they continued to represent a unique challenge, in light of the increase in armed conflicts around the world, both national and international, and in view of the ongoing struggle against terrorism.

She said Israel had taken an active and substantive role in the diplomatic conference convened between 1974 and 1977, during which the two Additional Protocols were formulated.  She acknowledged the important contribution of the ICRC to the codification and development of international humanitarian law.

She said Israel had not been alone in expressing its concerns about certain aspects of the Additional Protocols; a significant number of States, as well as leading scholars, had questioned whether various provisions of the Protocols had a sound legal basis and actually advanced the humanitarian interests.  When instruments of international humanitarian law were manipulated and politicized, as was being seen today, the result was necessarily to weaken the stature of those instruments and in so doing risk harming the very people they were designed to protect.

Israel considered the adoption of the third Additional Protocol to be a historic move, creating an opportunity to solve an anomaly that had troubled the Red Cross Movement for decades.  It provided a significant improvement to humanitarian protection in many circumstances.  She expressed her country’s appreciation to Switzerland, the depositary State.

HASSAN SALEN ( Lebanon) said that, for several years now, international humanitarian law was an integral part of the training curricula of all military academies at all levels.  The will to impose certain rules on the conduct of war dated back several centuries and arose out of necessity and concern.  Over the years, those rules had developed and become more assertive.  Unfortunately, the principles enshrined in the Conventions, deriving from moral values, were constantly being violated by some States.

He said that during the last Israeli aggression against Lebanon, the Israeli forces blatantly violated those principles in every possible way.  He cited specific violations and said the international community was duty bound to push Israel to observe its obligations under international law, to abide by the principle of the rule of law and to refrain from violating the international humanitarian law.


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For information media • not an official record

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