Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, Closing Remarks for Geneva Conventions at 70 Event at the General Assembly
UN Headquarters, New York, 23 September 2019
The Geneva Conventions came out of, what was arguably, the worst collective experience that humanity had ever gone through.
The adoption of the Conventions firmly established that in times of conflict, those who are not taking a direct part in hostilities must be protected and their life and dignity upheld.
Even wars have limits.
Over the course of the last two decades, these rules of war have only been strengthened. But the law is one thing and compliance with it is another.
So, I want to offer five categories of action that everyone can work on to improve compliance.
First, advocacy is extremely important. We must urge all Member States to sign up to and ratify international humanitarian law treaties. And we must push for all to adopt and share good policies and practices to strengthen adherence to the law.
Second, training and raising awareness. Some parties to conflict behave in the way they do because they lack the required knowledge. The recent work of the ICRC has shown that, when sensitized, parties are sometimes more willing to conform their behaviour to international humanitarian law.
Third, coordination and deconfliction can help parties fulfil their legal obligations. For instance, civil-military coordination plays an essential role in security management for humanitarian agencies and their staff on the ground.
We have good examples of deconfliction arrangements. In Yemen, for instance, our humanitarian notification mechanism facilitates delivery of the world’s largest relief operation.
Fourth we need to, to collect more evidence of, and investigate suspected violations. There are too many credible allegations of serious violations that are simply never pursued.
Fifth, there has to be accountability for knowingly violating the law. States need to do much better in holding individuals to account when they commit serious violations of the law. And where national accountability systems do not act, there should be more support for international or hybrid accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court.
Doing what needs to be done clearly requires a substantial swell in political will.
But as the Secretary-General has said, there are glimmers of hope.
I personally remain confident that if we generate political will and prioritize these practical steps, we can make strides in making greater respect for international humanitarian law a reality.