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Implementing International Humanitarian Law:

from Law to Action

International humanitarian law also called the law of war sets out detailed rules that seek to limit the effects of armed
conflict. In particular, it protects those who are not, or no longer, taking part in the fighting, and sets limits on the means and
methods of warfare. Humanitarian law is a universal set of rules. Its main treaties have been accepted by nearly every State in
the world. However, becoming party to these agreements is only a first step. Efforts must be made to implement humanitarian
law to turn the rules into action.

What is implementation? the armed forces, or other State a range of measures must be
bodies. taken. The main ones are:
The term implementation covers all
measures that must be taken to There may also be a role for 1) to have the Conventions and
ensure that the rules of international professional and educational bodies, Protocols translated into the
humanitarian law are fully respected. the National Red Cross or Red national language(s);
However, it is not sufficient merely to Crescent Society or other voluntary
apply these rules once fighting has organizations. 2) to spread knowledge of their
begun. There are also measures that provisions as widely as possible
must be taken in both wartime and Measures have also been taken at both within the armed forces
peacetime. These measures are an international level to deal with and the general population;
necessary to ensure that: violations of humanitarian law. An
International Fact-Finding 3) to repress all violations listed as
 both civilians and the military Commission has been set up and such in the above-mentioned
personnel are familiar with the States are encouraged to use its instruments and, in particular, to
rules of humanitarian law; services. Tribunals have been set up adopt criminal legislation that
to deal with violations committed punishes war crimes;
 the structures, administrative during the recent conflicts in Rwanda
arrangements and personnel and in the former Yugoslavia. An 4) to ensure that persons, property
required for compliance with the international criminal court was and places protected by the law
law are in place; created by the 1998 Rome Statute. are properly identified, marked
and protected;
 violations of humanitarian law However, it is the States which
are prevented, and punished continue to bear primary 5) to adopt measures to prevent the
when they do occur. responsibility for effectively misuse of the red cross, the red
implementing the law, and which crescent and other symbols and
Such measures are essential to must adopt measures at a national emblems provided for in the
ensure that the law is truly level. Conventions and Protocols;
6) to ensure that protected persons
What needs to be done? enjoy judicial and other
Who should implement? fundamental guarantees during
Under international humanitarian law armed conflict;
All States have a clear obligation to that is, the 1949 Geneva
adopt and carry out measures Conventions, their Additional 7) to appoint and train persons
implementing humanitarian law. Protocols of 1977 relating to the qualified in international
These measures may need to be protection of victims of armed humanitarian law, in particular
taken by one or more government c o nf l i c t s, t h e 1 9 5 4 Ha g u e legal advisers within the armed
ministries, the legislature, the courts, Convention on Cultural Property and forces;
the latter's Second Protocol of 1999

International Committee of the Red Cross

8) to provide for the establishment training of personnel, the production may also be able to offer assistance
and/or regulation of: of identity cards and other with implementation.
documents, the setting up of special
 National Red Cross and structures, and the introduction of Through its Advisory Service on
Red Crescent Societies and planning and administrative International Humanitarian Law, the
other voluntary aid procedures. International Committee of the Red
societies, Cross provides advice and
 civil defence organizations, All these measures are essential to documentation to governments on
ensuring effective implementation of national implementation. It can be
 National Information humanitarian law. contacted through the nearest ICRC
Bureaux; delegation, or at the address below.
9) to take account of international
humanitarian law when selecting How can this be done?
military sites and in developing Advisory Service on International
and adopting weapons and Careful planning and regular Humanitarian Law
military tactics; consultation are the key to effective Legal Division
implementation. Many States have International Committee
10) to provide for the establishment established national humanitarian of the Red Cross
of hospital zones, neutralized law committees or similar bodies for 19, avenue de la Paix
zones, security zones and this purpose. They bring together 1202 Geneva
demilitarized zones. government ministries, national Switzerland
organizations, professional bodies
The treaty provisions that could or do and others with responsibilities or tel. ++ 41 22 734 60 01
require such measures are set out in expertise in the field of fax: ++ 41 22 733 20 57
the table below. implementation. Such bodies have
generally proved to be an effective E-mail:
Some of these measures will require means of promoting national
the adoption of legislation or implementation.
regulations. Others will require the 06/2002
development of educational In some countries, the National Red
programmes, the recruitment and/or Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Key articles requiring the adoption of IHL national implementation measures

1954 Hague 1999
1949 Geneva Conventions 1977 Protocols
Conv. Protocol
First Second Third Fourth I II
Translation 48 49 41, 128 99, 145 84 26 37
Dissemination & training 47 48 41, 127 99, 144 80, 82-83, 87 19 7, 25 30
General provisions 49-54 50-53 129-132 146-149 85-91 28 15-21
War crimes 49-50 50-51 129-130 146-147 11, 85-90
Compensation 91
Fundamental guarantees 3, 12 3, 13-17 3, 27-34 11, 75-77 4-5,7
Judicial and disciplinary 3, 5, 17, 3, 5, 31-35, 43,
guarantees; rights of prisoners 3 3 82-90, 64-78, 99-100, 44-45, 75 6
and detainees 95-108, 129 117-126
Medicinal and religious personnel 40, 41 42 20 15-16, 18 10, 12
Medicinal transports and facilities 22, 24-27,
19, 36, 39,
38-39, 41, 18, 21-22 12, 18, 21-23 12
Cultural property 53 16 3, 6, 10, 12 5
Dangerous forces 56 15
Identity cards 18, 66-67,
27, 40, 41,
42, Annex 17, Annex IV 20 78-79,
Annex II
Annexes I&II
Capture and internment cards 70, Annex IV 106, Annex III
Use/misuse of emblems and 18, 37-38, 66,
144, 53-54 44-45 12 6, 10, 12, 17
symbols 85, Annex I
Experts and advisers
Qualified persons 6 7, 25
Legal advisers 82
National Societies 26 63 81 18
Civil defence 63 61-67
Information bureaux 122-124 136-141
Mixed medical commissions 112, Annex II
Military planning
Weapons/tactics 36
Military sites 57-58 8
Protected zones and localities 23, Annex I 14, 15 59-60, Annex I

International Committee of the Red Cross