Implementing IHL: Participation of the American States in International Humanitarian Law Treaties and their National Implementation - Progress and Activities in the Americas (2016-2017 Report)

from International Committee of the Red Cross
Published on 21 Jan 2019 View Original


This report, prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), describes the qualitative and quantitative advances achieved in the period 2016–2017 by the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS). This progress reflects the importance the region’s countries attach to international humanitarian law (IHL), which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflicts by restricting the means and methods of warfare, protecting people who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and safeguarding humanitarian action and the ICRC.
IHL treaties are widely accepted by States around the world, including the American States, with the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 having achieved universal ratification. Over the years, further instruments have been adopted to regulate a wide range of specific issues, such as the protection of cultural properly and prohibitions and limitations on certain types of weapons, such as anti-personnel mines, chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions and, more recently, nuclear weapons.

In order to ensure their effectiveness, the rules of IHL codified in treaties require the adoption in peacetime of complementary measures by the States that have ratified these instruments. In the two-year period 2016– 2017, as well as becoming party to different treaties (for example, the Arms Trade Treaty), the region’s States also adopted concrete measures for IHL implementation, which included enacting domestic legislation, adjusting public policy, incorporating IHL rules into military training and manuals, spreading knowledge of IHL among the general public, adapting university syllabuses and marking protected property (such as cultural heritage sites).

National IHL committees and similar interministerial bodies, set up by governments to advise and assist them in applying and disseminating the principles of IHL, often play an important role in formulating and introducing such measures. Bodies of this kind have been established in twenty American States to date. The ICRC supports their work in specific areas and also promotes the exchange of best practices and learnings among them, by periodically organizing global and regional meetings. The region’s national IHL committees were invited to take part in the Universal Meeting of National Committees and Similar Bodies on International Humanitarian Law held in 2016 in Geneva under the overarching theme of Enhancing Protection in Armed Conflict through Domestic Law and Policy. In 2017, a regional meeting of the national committees of the Americas was staged in San José (Costa Rica) on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Additional Protocols of 1977 and the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. At the meeting, the participating States were informed about the latest developments in various topics relating to weapons.

In the reporting period, the region’s countries continued to show their firm commitment to developing IHL.

A number of States played a prominent role in advancing various diplomatic processes, such as the one that led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017, the negotiations for the global compacts on migration and refugees (which refer specifically to armed conflicts) and processes to strengthen compliance with IHL and strengthen IHL protecting persons deprived of their liberty in accordance with resolutions adopted at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2015.

For its part, the OAS kept IHL and the humanitarian issues facing the region high on its agenda. The Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, in particular, focused on these topics, and the ICRC was invited to join in its discussions on the question of the missing and the needs of their families in 2017. Further proof of its commitment in this area were the resolutions relating to IHL adopted at the OAS General Assemblies held in Santo Domingo (2016) and Cancun (2017), which addressed issues such as the promotion of and respect for IHL, migration and internal displacement in the Americas and promotion of the International Criminal Court.

The results set out in this report undoubtedly contribute to strengthening respect for IHL in the Americas and around the world. However, in spite of these advances and achievements, there remains much to be done. The prospects for continued progress are promising, as there is a wide debate on issues relating to IHL and to situations of violence other than armed conflict in which IHL does not apply but which lead to great suffering. Responding effectively to these situations to prevent and alleviate suffering is a major challenge for both States and humanitarian organizations.

Eric Tardif
Legal advisor
ICRC regional delegation for Mexico, Central America and Cuba