Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

Plenary 1: Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts

Statement by Mr Richard Rowe, Senior Legal Adviser, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

28 November 2011


Madame Chair,

Australia welcomes the opportunity to provide its views on the conclusions of the ICRC’s report on Strengthening Legal Protection for Victims of Armed Conflicts, and the proposal that this Conference invite the ICRC to continue discussions with States as to how best to take this work forward.

Australia agrees with the principal conclusion of the ICRC’s report, namely that IHL, in its current state, continues to provide a suitable framework for regulating the conduct of parties in armed conflict and that efforts must be made to ensure there is better compliance with the existing framework. The number of reported incidents in which civilians, for example, are deliberately targeted by parties to conflicts is shocking and deplorable. As such, we must ensure that in examining where the law might be strengthened we do not lose sight of the fact that there is much work to be done in living up to the promise of the law that already exists.

It is for this reason that Australia welcomes the fact that the ICRC has concluded that priority should be given to enhancing compliance with IHL. We are very interested in exploring with States and the ICRC ideas for strengthening relevant mechanisms for monitoring compliance. We do not think our work in this area will be easy, particularly given the number of non-State armed groups whose conduct is cause for concern. Nonetheless, we look forward to engaging in creative thinking with the participants at this Conference, this week and beyond, as to how we can enhance compliance with the law.

While strict application of existing laws is key, Australia recognises that the way in which armed conflicts are fought has changed since the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols were adopted and that this poses challenges that are not specifically addressed by IHL. In this context we welcome the ICRC’s conclusion that priority should also be given to strengthening the legal protection of persons deprived of their liberty, a subject in which Australia has a strong interest. We also welcome the approach taken in the draft Conference resolution on “Strengthening legal protection of victims of armed conflicts” to invite the ICRC to pursue further research, consultation and discussion in cooperation with States to identify how best to take work on this topic forward.

In Australia’s view, the ICRC’s Study provides a useful starting point for an examination of the gaps that are alleged to exist in relation to detention. It is, of course, not our only reference point: we also need to study what efforts are currently being made to meet those gaps. Once this further study has been undertaken, States will be in a position to make decisions about how best to proceed. As the resolution recognises, it is necessary for States to consider which of a range of processes could be pursued – be it the development of agreement on best practices, soft law instruments, and possibly also new rules as our discussion on this subject matures.

In closing, let me emphasise that Australia is committed to upholding its obligations under IHL. We are equally committed to working with States, the ICRC and other partners to help ensure that others live up to their obligations – with the objective of strengthening the application of and compliance with IHL.

Thank you.